I used to cringe when I saw people with tattoos. I confess it made me uncomfortable. I was told that the only people who got tattoos were people who went to prison. When someone would say a "bad word" I would shake my head in dismay. Drinking alcohol made you a sinner, dancing was for the ungodly and if you wore jeans or shorts of any kind, you were not a real "Christian lady".
In middle school, I was in an extremely legalistic and religious church and from an early age I was told that behavior modification was a big, huge deal and that if you didn't have the right behavior you were to be shunned or avoided. So I acted accordingly.
Then I rebelled.
I would still pretend to be a "good Christian girl" on Sundays and at youth group activities, but I began making choices that did not line up with the expectation of my church when I wasn't there. I felt like everything I did was judged and I honestly couldn't measure up. Eventually, by the time I reached college, I ran from church. All the rules were weighing me down. Religion without relationship always equals rebellion. All the judgment was making me cynical. Something was missing and I knew it. I had it backwards. I was trying to change from the outside in, but God wanted to change me from the inside out.
Ezekiel 36:26 tells us that God wants to give us a new heart. He wants to remove our old, stony, stubborn heart and replace it with a "heart of flesh". He will put His Spirit in us so that we can obey. This tells me something huge. If His Spirit is not in us, we will not obey. I mean, we can pretend to change. We can't really obey from our heart though. We just have an outward behavior modification program of sorts. It will never last. If our hearts don't change, our behavior may change on the outside, but all that religion on the inside will eventually lead to rebellion.
In 2003, I gave my heart to Christ and He replaced it with a new heart. This one wants to obey. This one doesn't want to judge, shun or wag my finger at anyone. This one loves deeply. This one is super-natural and it's Christ in me - the Hope of Glory! This heart knows that an outward appearance of "godliness" doesn't always mean that person is "holier" than another. God is not as concerned with our outward behavior as He is with our heart condition. If we have pristine behavior, but our heart is still made of stone, God is not impressed. If we have a new heart of flesh, given to us by Christ, but our behavior is still a work in progress, God is pleased. It goes against all we think we know!
What's worse? Someone with tattoos who is still addicted to alcohol but loves his neighbor as himself and pursues Jesus or the one who has a "clean life" and is told to love his neighbor as himself and doesn't? We usually shun those who do the latter, but isn't it a sin to overlook the addicted and afflicted? It's so sad to me how we often reject those who are changed more on the inside than they really look on the outside yet, but we open our arms to the ones who are cleaned up on the outside, but are loveless, gossiping and judgmental. Which one do you suppose Jesus would approve of? (If you still aren't sure you know the answer, read this.)
I do believe God is still working that false religion out of my heart, though. It's like "religious rehab" of sorts. Every day I realize I'm still stuck in some of my old thought patterns. It's a little different now, though. Now, I find I'm pretty judgmental toward the religious folks. The ones who are still shutting people out. The ones who are turning people away because of how they look or what they do. But my being judgmental toward the "judgmental" isn't good, either. They are only doing what they have been taught to do and they really think they are doing what is right. They are misguided.
Oh, Lord, help me.
There's quite a few of us who have been so "religionized" that we've lost sight of what really matters. Jesus came to save the broken and the lost, not the ones who think they have it all together. Even though my new heart does not want to do the same old habits of judging, finger wagging and being cynical, I still do them sometimes. But it grieves my heart. And I want to change. Because Christ has changed me from the inside out, I realize He is constantly changing my heart for people and I want to do things that please Him. He has changed me (and continues to change me) from the inside out.
We all need Jesus. We are all messed up in some way. We all have sins we are dealing with. Are we so worried about being "God's Gestapos" and pointing out the sins of others than we are not allowing Him to show us our own sin?
Oh, Lord, help us all.
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things...Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God's judgment when you do the very same things? Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to do you? Can't you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2:1, 3-4)