This morning, we’re finishing our message series entitled, “Toxic.”

By definition, if something is toxic, it is capable of causing serious debilitation or even death. In reality, we all possess toxic materials inside of our lives. We must appropriately deal with them before it’s too late and we find ourselves weak, ineffective, and dying.

So far, we learned about toxic thoughts, how they can seep in and set the course of our lives unknowingly. Not only did we learn how to recognize them, but also how to replace them as they arise. We learned about toxic influences and how we need our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us to recognize them and address them.

We learned last week about toxic relationships and how we need to be mindful and honest about the kind of company we are being. After all, “Bad company corrupts good character,” right?

Lastly, we’re learning about toxic religion.

When we learn about religion in the Bible, the Greek word used is the word thrēskeia. This word is all about external things such as traditions, ceremonies, rituals, and disciplines.

There is a unique distinction between Christianity and most any other form of religion out there. Religion is primarily about man sacrificing to either please a god or to achieve a higher power.

Christianity is quite the reverse and focuses more on relationship. Christianity is about the one, true, living God who sacrificed everything for man and simply invites us into a relationship with Him. He sacrificed everything and we are the beneficiaries of it.

Everything that we do externally is not done with the motive of getting into God’s good graces nor earning His salvation. Rather, external things are done out of a love and gratitude in response to what God has already done for us. External things are done out of a relationship of trust in His ways.

Toxic, Christian religion, however, says that you have to look and act a certain way to be found acceptable by God. By actions, it teaches that you have to clean up your life before approaching God, which is quite contradictory to the true gospel message. Many churches, unfortunately, exist for this sole purpose. They exist as a group of individuals hard-set on traditions and external facades forcing people to look and act as they do calling it discipleship.

Colossians 2:20-23
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

We don’t want to make the appearance of disciples, we want to see people filled with the Holy Spirit and transformed from the inside out by the power of God. This is the true gospel. We come to Jesus just as we are and He does a transforming work within our lives, which in time, through process, becomes evidenced outwardly as well. We want to see people not just restrain themselves from indulging in the flesh. We want to see people whose hunger and thirst for those things having been replaced for more of God’s Presence!

Relationship is about a living God accepting us as we are and doing an internal transformation from the inside out. Relationship allows us to be unique and distinct from others, which is what true and authentic discipleship is all about. It is about us becoming the unique person that God intended us to be. Relationship is all about who we are within and not about mere outward appearances. God even had to remind the great prophet, Samuel, of this fact when looking to select the second King of Israel:

1 Samuel 16:7
the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Toxically religious people make judgments by mere appearances. They don’t take time to get to know people and judge correctly. They ignorantly quote the Levitical law that one should not put tattoo marks on their bodies, yet have sideburns and a clean shaven face, which is forbidden just a verse before in that same law. They say build a wall and get those foreigners out of here while that same law states that you must treat all foreigners as native-born love them as yourselves. That same law requires that we provide for their needs by leaving a portion of our fields for them to gather stealing away from the work force from our own people. They wear their cotton-polyester blended shirts, though that is also forbidden in that same law.

I could go on and on and on, but you get the picture, right? It’s not about their concern in obeying the Levitical law as written otherwise, they would follow it all and not only the convenient verse. It is about outward appearances and tattoos being unacceptable in their social club, not about living godly lives set apart for Him. It’s about toxic religion and not relational transformation. Paul dealt with toxically religious people, too, who demanded that all people were circumcised. Paul’s response?

Galatians 5:12 (MSG)
Why don’t these agitators, obsessive as they are about circumcision, go all the way and castrate themselves!

If you ever wonder how Jesus confronted toxic religion, just check out any interactions that He had with the toxically religious people that He encountered. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty!

Matthew 23:25-27
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

By the way, Jesus obviously wasn’t giving good housekeeping tips here; this wasn’t a Dawn commercial. He was talking about the way that they lived their lives.

27 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.

This verse is the essence of religion. Religion is about outwardly looking, speaking, and acting a certain way with no regard to our true inward condition.

Toxic religion is like a polished turd. It may look like a delicious, chocolatey, tootsie roll outwardly, but when you bite into it, you find that it isn’t what it lead you to believe that it was. Have you ever met a person that way? 🙂

We don’t want to put on a show and pretend we’re something that we truly are not. Instead, we want to allow the Holy Spirit to turn us into the sweet, chocolatey, treats that we truly are. The more that people get to know us, the more that the genuineness of our faith should be clear.

Whether the inside, outside, left side, right side, front side, back side, absolutely every part of a tootsie roll is consistent. It is sweet, chewy, and chocolatey through and through. This should be our goal as well; to allow the Holy Spirit to so completely transform our lives that we are found consistently faithful no matter what area of our lives people experience.

It may be a bit of a crude example, but may we be like a Tootsie Roll and not a polished turd when it comes to our faith. May we be genuine and authentic when it comes to growing in our faith and not religiously looking and acting like something we are not. May we be truly transformed from the inside out and not concerned with mere appearances alone.

No, there is nothing wrong with traditions, ceremonies, rituals, and disciplines. However, if we are doing them to earn right standing with God, then they are worthless. If we do them from a changed heart that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit, and out of love and gratitude for Jesus, then they are awesome.

Jesus went through a whole monologue in Matthew 23 sharing His frustrations with toxic, religious people. He said things like they slam the door of heaven in people’s faces, that they convert people to be twice the sons of hell that they are, that they care about the wrong things. He called them snakes, broods of vipers, condemned to hell, murderers, hypocrites, wicked, blind, and a whole lot of other things.

I don’t believe that Jesus was trying to be mean or condescending, I believe that He was just trying to hold up a mirror to help them understand and see their true state. After all, these were highly respected people in the community whom everyone else bowed down to and obeyed their every word. They were leaders in the faith community and were supposed to be ones pointing the people to God.

Why do I believe this about Jesus? Well, He ends His rant by saying, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” To me, this reveals Jesus’ hurting heart of compassion toward these toxically religious people. He didn’t want to distance Himself from them, but it hurt Him deeply that they distanced themselves from Him and lead others to do the same.

What is wrong with sandwich-board, megaphone, screaming evangelism? Well, it simply doesn’t tell the gospel message. It tells people to clean up their act or go to hell, right?

OK, let’s say that some heathen heard that message and somehow mustered up the strength to never sin another day in their life until they died. Let’s say that they fully lived out the message that they heard to turn or burn. Let’s say that they turned away from their sin. When they meet Jesus, will they be warmly welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven? Nope. That person would still head to hell paying the penalty for every sin they committed from birth until the day of their change.

Salvation is received by faith in Jesus alone and cannot be earned any other way. It isn’t about a person cleaning up their life, it is about a person handing over their messy, broken, powerless lives to Jesus. Jesus accepts them exactly as they are and cleans them up, heals their brokenness, and empowers them to truly live!

Toxic religion looks down their nose at the person walking into church in dirty clothes with a cigarette hanging out their mouth and the smell of booze on their breath with their uncontrolled children. Jesus rejoices that they’ve chosen to come and meet with Him and is no way offended or embarrassed by their condition.

Matthew 21:31b-32
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

It isn’t about what we say, it is about what we do. It isn’t about saying that we want to reach the lost, it’s about doing it. It isn’t saying that we love God and love people, it is about doing it. It isn’t about saying that we’re lead by the Spirit of God, it is about doing it.

Doing what is right most importantly is doing it for the right reasons and with the right motive. We do it not to look good or to earn anything from God, we do it because we love God and are grateful for all He has done for us. Toxic religion says a lot, but doesn’t put it into practice. When toxic religion actually gets out there and does things, it does it for the wrong motive.

Matthew 23:1-5a
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 “Everything they do is done for people to see

This morning, God is calling us away from toxic religion. God is calling us to be raw, authentic, and genuine. Tootsie rolls and not turds. Transformed through relationship and not religion.