There are some people who are absolutely against religion. They’d probably agree if I said that religion could be deadly. they might even point to all the wars that religion has supposedly caused.
But what if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ? Would you agree with me if I told you that religion can be deadly? Because it really can be!
There are too many people who serve God without joy. That’s a problem. It’s a key reason why many people choose not to follow God. They look at Christians and decide that they don’t want what they have. Too many Christians are focused on the bad stuff in the world rather than on the good stuff about God. Too many Christians are focused not on their Saviour, but on themselves, and that’s bound to make anyone sad.
But serving God without joy is a worse problem than that, because serving God without joy will kill you as surely as any terminal disease. Let me explain what I mean.
The last couple of cars I’ve owned ended up having trouble with overheating engines. So, these days, I pay much more attention to the engine temperature gauge on my dashboard. When it starts to go in the wrong direction, I know that I need to stop and have the car checked out, because there are certainly problems with the engine.
So, too, with joy in the life of the follower of Christ. If you start to lose your joy, it’s an early warning sign that you are heading towards danger, even deadly danger. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote,
Rejoice in the Lord! (I don’t mind writing these things over and over to you, as I know it keeps you safe.) (Phil 3:1, Voice).
A lack of joy indicates that you have been centring your life on yourself rather than on Jesus. It’s impossible to focus on the reality of Jesus’ presence in your life and not be filled with joy. Real joy isn’t created by what you do or by the circumstances of life, but by the fulfilment of a deep relationship with Christ. True joy doesn’t come from you; it comes from Jesus. That’s why Jesus called it, “my joy in you” (John 1 5:11).
A lack of joy in your spiritual life tells you that you are serving God for the wrong reasons. It tells you that you are being more religious than Christian. In Christ’s day, that’s the situation that the Pharisees and religious leaders found themselves in. They had a self-centred religion, rather than a Christ-centred and other-centred faith. That’s why they had no joy, and that’s why Jesus warned about their religion (Matt 23:15, 27).
The religion of the Pharisees was a deadly religion. You can look good on the outside but it can be all death on the inside. Do you think such people could ever be happy? I think not. They delude even themselves.
It’s different when you really make Jesus the centre of your life, when your source of identity and life is based on the reality that you belong to him. That’s life-giving. That’s why the Bible encourages you to:
Be full of joy always because you belong to the Lord. Again I say, be full of joy! (Phil 4:4).
If you are a Christian, take a moment to joy-check your religion. And if you’re not, could you be missing out on real and lasting happiness in your life?
Article supplied with thanks to Dr Eliezer Gonzalez.
About the Author: Dr Eli Gonzalez is the Senior Pastor of Good News Unlimited and the presenter of the Unlimited radio spots, and The Big Question.