Relating to Others in the Presence of God
The kind of living I’ve been describing is what the apostle Paul called “walking in the spirit.” It’s living daily life in the awareness of the spiritual dimension. It’s heaven-on-earth-in-your-heart. It’s not a way of behaving. It’s a way of thinking that affects your behaving. It’s an attitude that seeks to recognize and honor the always present Creator.
What Others Think About God’s Omnipresence and Nature
If the whole world consisted of just you and God, you could probably get a grip on this kind of thought life a lot quicker. The reality is, however, that we are social creatures and live in a shared world. And it’s obvious from the behavior we see that many people don’t think a loving, virtuous, all-powerful God is all around them at all times. Shoplifters shoplift when they think no one is looking. Hoodlums ransack when they think no one’s around. Once again we see that behavior is altered based on who else is present. And it’s clear from these behaviors that, at least for those moments, God was considered as absent as anyone else.
So, how do you live in a world where God is everywhere present, but not everyone takes the idea as seriously as you do? You live your inward life no differently than if you were the only person in the world. Walking in the spirit is by nature a personal mental habit. If others around you also engage in it, you’re not relieved from practicing it; you still have to think for yourself. If others around you don’t embrace the idea, you can still engage in it without their approval or support.
God’s idea is to influence our behavior from within – not enforce it from without. The whole nature and thrust of the way of life Jesus left us is based in personal, individual motivation. Whenever people have sought to enforce it from without, behavior only gets worse. The Sermon on the Mount deals with issues like hatred, anger, lust, and so on. These things can’t be regulated from anywhere but within. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to form and share common moral values as a society. It’s very important that we do. But getting into religious quarrels distracts us from moral questions. What then, someone will ask, about organized religion?
The only organized religion ever required by the Bible was that of ancient Israel, and the requirements laid down by Moses for the physical descendants of Abraham. This religion, which included a temple for animal sacrifice, was no longer needed once the kingdom of heaven came.
As we shed our winter coats when summer comes, so God’s brand of organized religion was shed when the kingdom of heaven came (for more on when and how this happened, see the post Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again). The church written about in the New Testament was like springtime: helping people make a gradual transition from the winter of a physical temple to the summer of a God who could be approached anywhere, with no sacrificial gift but one’s self. (For more, see the post The Kingdom of God Is Here and Now.) As for this bridge, the church of the New Testament was not an organization – it was a movement. Out of that movement have come organizations, but there will never be another church like that one (for more, see the post Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church or Church Is Not the Answer.)
I recognize that church today is not the only expression of organized religion, but I trust you are making the translation to synagogue, mosque, or whatever other form of organized religion with which you are most familiar.
The solution to our problems is not in organized religion but rather in the person of God – Jesus Himself. If we live for Him, and remain conscious of Him, we will have power over sin in our lives. Organized religion, by contrast, has no power over sin. When I was a pastor, I had men tell me that they had compulsions for pornography. However, the very fact that they didn’t flip through the magazines while they were sitting in church proves that they were completely able to control their behavior. If they truly had no control over their compulsions, they would have looked at the magazines in my presence. Or in their wives’ presence. Or in their mother’s presence. True compulsion wouldn’t care who was around. When we hide our evil behavior we prove we can control it. Let me say that again for emphasis’ sake: When we hide our evil behaviors we prove that we can control them.
Acknowledging the eyes of heaven would have kept those men controlling their behavior…if they truly loved those eyes. Organized religion cannot give you the kind of attention that God does. If organized religion is the way you worship and serve God, you will never have complete power over sin. If, however, you live for Jesus Christ and continually acknowledge His omniscience and omnipresence you can break free from your sins.
The people involved in organized religion face the same temptations, make the same mistakes, live with the same weaknesses…and end up in the same heaven as everyone else. The behavior of the people involved in organized religion is not noticeably better than the people of society at large. Divorce, child abuse, and almost every other sin you see in society at large manifests itself among churchgoers, too. The reason for this is that faith in organized religion is misplaced. Our faith must be in God for it to have power.
Beyond Religion…Organized and Otherwise
If you honestly believe that God is omnipresent and omniscient (and who doesn’t believe that?!), you don’t need to go anywhere, or join any group, in order to find Him…or to be more spiritual. If you think God is more present in some places than others or if you think He’s more present during some occasions than others, you may be only stunting your own spiritual growth. The spirituality that the Bible promotes for those who live in the day of Christ (which includes us) requires no special places or occasions. It requires no compliance from others. You can practice it all by yourself. In fact, you have to practice it by yourself. It’s personal and inner-driven. This is faith.