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An Intellectual Religion?

13th December 2017

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This post is the seventh in the 'Pitfalls of Christianity' Series. Based on quotes from Steps To Christ, it aims to look at the common misunderstandings that many can encounter in the Christian walk. It's a thoughtful and personal piece, and strikes right at the heart!—Editor

“Many accept an intellectual religion, a form of godliness, when the heart is not cleansed” SC 35.

I grew up in a home with a Mum who some people refer to as the ‘eternal student’. She finished secondary school when she was about 19 years old. Shortly after she met my Dad, got married, started a psychology degree and had myself and my sister Qeren. She then finished her psychology degree, had one more baby, got divorced, and was now a single mother of three girls under the age of 6. She started and finished medical school regardless and went on to specialise in psychiatry. Today my Mum’s a psychiatrist and is working on a PhD.

It won't then come as a surprise to you that in our household books took a prominent place when we were growing up. My mother prizes knowledge and encourages us to this day to do our research and be well informed. She read Bible stories to me daily until she realised I could read myself and then she hooked me up with the blue Maxwell Bible series. By the time I turned 10 or 11 I had read all of those, so then I switched to an adult Bible. I don’t think I read from it every night. But by this time I had enough knowledge to roll up at Sabbath school without having studied my children’s lesson and still have the answers to most of the questions readily available, enough knowledge to have a general idea of what was and wasn’t accepted in the church and enough knowledge to, a little bit later in life as the internet began to emerge, debate other Christians (sometimes Adventists and sometimes non-Adventists) in chatrooms and forums about things like alcohol and Sabbath keeping.

Yes, I had just enough knowledge to trick myself into thinking that this was all there was to Christianity. Going to church on Sabbath, trying to be a good person, and reading the Bible.

That was what my faith looked like. My faith was shallow. It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t trivial to me either. But it was definitely immature.

It began to change at a prayer conference. We studied the Bible there, and then prayed about what we had studied. I learned to apply the knowledge to my heart. And during one of the prayers, for the first time in my life, I experienced God as more than a God who’s real but also very far away. This time I experienced him also as the Heavenly Friend who’s interested in my wellbeing and wants to commune with me. The friendship we started there has developed much since. We started talking about surrendering all to Christ. I told Jesus that I wanted to live with him forever, he told me he would never leave or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). I was baptised the year after that.

Today though, once in a while, even though I now intellectually know “What a Friend we have in Jesus” I find myself ignoring Jesus. No, wait. It’s not ignoring. Ignoring implies that you’re in close enough proximity to someone to disregard their attempts to communicate with you. I guess it is more accurate to say that at times I feel like I shut him out. I don’t do it on purpose. I just sometimes find myself being so busy with work, church, family, friends, hobbies, or just general procrastination, that I crowd out Christ.

And here comes my challenge: my intellect stays even when my spirituality diminishes.

The knowledge I have acquired about God over the years doesn't evaporate when I don't spend time in prayer, nor do I stop going to church when I stop nurturing my relationship with God.

I’m such a “well trained Christian” that my religious rites stay active long after my spirituality has died.

“Many accept an intellectual religion, a form of godliness, when the heart is not cleansed” SC 35.

Does that sound familiar? Do you find yourself just going through the motions of religion and church sometimes, without having that connection with Jesus that makes religion and church worthwhile? Do you have a whole lot of knowledge of God, but do you feel in your heart like you don’t really know him? Would you like to experience what it's like for God to commune with you?

The good news is that it's very much possible for any one who would want such a relationship, to have it. God says “If you come close to me, I will come close to you” (James 4:8). The bad news, if you can call it that, is that it takes some serious effort, perhaps more than you are willing to put in. Because it entails rejecting the urge to trust in what you know, and instead rely on God's understanding.

As you come close to God you’ll realise that you’re far from perfect, that there is sin in your life that you love, and that it’s pulling you down. There’s a good chance that you’ll try to hold on to your cherished sin and Jesus at the same time. He will be very patient with you, and then he will eventually make you choose. Your victory in all of this will be to stand still long enough to realise that what he has to offer is better than what he’s asking you to leave behind. And that he will clean your heart so that it will align with His mind. It’s about realising that the peace that comes from a relationship with Christ surpasses all understanding, all intellectualism and all knowledge.

The key to having a religion that goes beyond mere knowledge is a relationship with the God with whom knowledge begins.

That is faith.

After all is said and done, knowledge will still be important. It’s not without reason that God says that his people perish because of a lack of knowledge. But it’s equally true that it’s not by knowledge that his people live.

It’s by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Zippora Anson
AUTHOR

Zippora Anson

- Graduate of ARISE (2008), graduate of Public International Law program at Leiden University (2010) - excited about Jesus, kids and sunshine

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