The Odyssey (Part 5)

The Fruit Test
by Rayola Kelley

One of the many challenges on my spiritual odyssey involved religion. There is a religion the Bible makes reference to, and then there are religions that man and Satan inspire. I encountered the religion that was inspired by both man and Satan when I was part of a cult. There was a false light of love, compassion, and goodness permeating the environment and the people. It all appeared religious because it promoted religious concepts, family, good morals, and religious exercises. However, what I later discovered as a new believer was that Satan is quite religious and comes across as an angel of light that clearly deceives. He also has false apostles and ministers of so-called “righteousness” promoting his counterfeit religions in order to draw people into his destructive web (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).  But, as the Apostle Paul pointed out, all such religion may have a form of godliness, but it denies the very power that must be present to distinguish it as being Holy Spirit inspired (2 Timothy 3:5).

The religion inspired by man has its subtle twist on the matters of God, salvation, and morality. In most false religions you can find some truth or point of religious attraction that promotes a flimsy or false hope of making peace with God. However, it either adds to a truth or takes away from its intent. It is important to point out that Satan is behind every false religion. However, the hub behind all of Satan’s inspired religion is either spiritual “enlightenment” or experiences.

When it comes to man’s religion, a leader, doctrine, practices, or denomination serves as the center of man’s devotion. This brings us to the difference between religion that is being promoted by Satan and religion that is being promoted by man: Satan’s point of attraction for his religion is the supernatural, while for man’s religion it is nothing but humanism. Humanism simply exalts man and his attempts as the way and authority to some type of spiritual state, truth, or bliss. Regardless of how you look at it, both false religions seductively offer a way in which man can reach some type of state of holiness, spiritual enlightenment, or godhood outside of Christ. In fact, it represents those who are trying to enter God’s kingdom by any way except the door God provided in Christ.

As I have encountered and studied both forms of religion, I have discerned how each one has its own points of seduction. For Satan, the concept of arriving at a so-called “enlightened” or “divine state” is the lure, but for man’s religion it comes down to good works that will supposedly “sway” the balance in a productive way. In other words, our goodness will outweigh the badness of our evil twin, scripturally known as the “old man”, and God will surely accept us. The truth is we will never arrive to an ultimate state of holiness in this life; rather, as believers we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye to a state that will identify us to the heavenly. Meanwhile, for those in an unregenerate condition, their best will be considered as filthy rags, declaring that there can be no good thing found in such a state, causing all works that originate in such a condition to be considered reprobate (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 7:18; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52; Titus 1:15-16).

This brings me to my spiritual odyssey in relationship to religion. My greatest challenge came down to religion inspired by man. It is important to point out that such inspiration was not always the result of those who influenced me; rather, it was the product of my own human tendency to become pious. Granted, there are those who presented Christianity in a religious form, but there were others who stressed that Christianity is a way of life that can only be established through a relationship with God. Ultimately, I was the one who chose to interpret or follow  the way of what proved to be lifeless religion.

Each erroneous religious encounter I had during my journey revealed that the “old man” can be quite religious. He is prone to take spiritual matters and box them up in a nice little package that will appear to make spiritual things understandable, and cause him to emerge as religious, wise, and a spiritual authority. However, the “old man” can only take on the pose of self-righteousness, for there is nothing in him that could be considered upright before God.

As I consider my early Christian years, I have to admit that religion took me on various detours that lasted for the first seven years of my journey. The results of my religious detour were revealed by the fruits that eventually came to fruition. No wonder my fruit left me frustrated, joyless, and feeling like a bonafide hypocrite; and, from that premise I could only conclude that it left a bitter, sour, unpleasant taste to those who ended up partaking of it in some way. However, the foulness of my fruit brought me face to face with my true spiritual condition. The harsh reality of it broke me and left me devastated before the Lord. The brokenness represented the reality of the worst trap a Christian can become entangled in, but if it leads to repentance it points to a new beginning. For me, it led to repentance and a new beginning. Thanks to the Lord’s forgiveness, I not only started out with a clean slate, but I had learned some valuable lessons which left me a bit wiser.

As I reflected on my various religious detours, I began to understand how  lifeless religion can become a lure to most people. Although a person may desire to know God, he or she often looks for Him in the wrong places. It does not matter how religious an environment or a person may appear to be, it does not mean God is in the environment or with that person. The only sign that God is present is the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is missing, a form of religion may be present, but it will have no power to save, change, or deliver.

I also discovered that even if a religious person has the Spirit, he or she cannot give Him to you. Each of us is responsible to ask, seek, and knock until we find our life in Christ. Each person must carry his or her own cross, climb the mountains, cross the rivers, walk through the valleys, and find his or her way around or through the deep ravines. After all, in the current of life, God has ordained a unique type of terrain for each of us. It is here that we must find the Lord, choose to trust Him in His sovereign providence, and learn what it means to rely on Him regardless of what confronts us.

It was as I pondered my religious fiasco that I recognized that at the heart of such a matter was idolatry. I had managed to erect many idols in my different searches. Admittedly, I was not aware that I had put such emphasis or focus on that which was far from the divine. However, these idols had claimed my devotion, allegiance, and worship. Sadly, I had to ignore the foul fruit that was peeking out from behind my self-righteous robes. This masquerade required  developing a certain amount of self-delusion on my part.

The first religious pose was that of the carnal Christian. In my immaturity, I wanted to become true to my new belief, but the worldly attitude was still intact. I developed a religious reality that put the best foot forward in my conduct, but in so many ways I was simply tacking Christian practices on to my worldly attitude about the way things should be. It all looked religious to me, but it fell short. This unholy combination caused much confusion in my life. In fact, it caused a certain leanness to my life that I tried to compensate for by becoming more rigid in my pursuits. I never discerned that inner joy and peace were missing from my pursuit.

This state brought me to the next stage: that of self-righteousness. When you are a carnal Christian, inconsistencies plague you. You know you are missing the mark, but you do not know how to get to that place of spiritual maturity. Even though you can read Scriptures such as Philippians 1:6, which tells you that it is God who does the good work in you, such concepts remain foreign to you. The concept of grace is wonderful, but at this point in my life it had not become a personal revelation. The reason why is because a worldly attitude works off the idea that there must be some good in you that God can use, when in fact the only good that can be used is what God works in you.

As inconsistencies glared at me, I tried to establish a religion of deeds and statues that would bring discipline to my carnal attitude. As I became rigid, religion became unbearable. However, my attempt to be a good trooper about my plight ended with me sliding downward into a terrible abyss of vanity and ridiculousness. Through the regimentation of it all, I failed to see that I lacked godly love.

False religion causes a disconnect between our idea of our “religious” self and the real fruit of our lives. For me, I ended up taking on a Gnostic pose. I was pursuing spiritual enlightenment in light of Scriptural truths to try to confirm my delusion about my spiritual condition, while becoming divorced from the ungodly attitudes that were taking center stage in my life. In essence, my fruit was telling on me, but I consoled myself that as long as I knew a matter according to Scripture, I was okay. I erroneously concluded that my attitude would align to my knowledge, but attitude does not change unless one changes his or her mind about what he or she is doing. I later discovered that attitude only changes in a right way when conduct realigns itself to what is godly, and conduct will only adjust itself accordingly when attitude comes into agreement with what is right.

It was hard to look at the Gnostic pose I took on in my self-righteous pursuit, but then I had to realize that I also adopted an amoral attitude towards my deviations. The Bible is clear about what is morally right and wrong. There is no debate as to how God views moral or ethical practices. For example, what may seem like a harmless and insignificant form of lying, gossip, and slander to us may be considered devious and murderous to our righteous Judge. What may seem normal to our way of thinking might be considered an abomination to the Lord. What might be thrown into the shades of gray in our way of doing may be considered a transgression to God. What may be deemed as a right on our part in a matter may be considered iniquity according to God. Each of these deviations will result in us becoming separated from God and lost to His plan for our lives.

I realize that when Christians deviate from the Word, they become amoral. In other words, any real absolute right or wrong ceases so that the present situation can be adjusted according to personal preference. Moral and ethical issues then slide into shades of grey that will cause a person to slip into an amoral arena. It was at this stage that in my heart I knew something was wrong in my life, but in my mind I justified it. I simply enlarged the borders of something for a time until I could personally get on top of my own conduct. I figured the Lord would understand.

The Lord did understand, but what He understood is that I wanted my own way and I wanted to work it out according to my selfishness. In a sense, I took on an agnostic attitude. When you adjust moral absolutes, you begin to show disbelief towards the God of the Bible. In your mind, you begin to render his glory into the human arena where His holiness ceases and His love is unrealistically exalted to overlook moral deviation. Meanwhile, you simply create a god to your own liking. Even though you have an idea of God, there are no absolutes as to His character and Word, stripping His Word of any valid authority in your mind.

The truth of the matter is, I was in an utter state of rebellion, but I was blinded to it. In my rebellion I put on the fig leaves of good intentions to do better as a means to hide the shame created by the deviation that was taking place in my life. On top of my fig-leaves I reinforced my hypocritical religion by putting on a religious robe to soothe my conscience. After all, there were points in my life where I perceived that I was doing good, and my logic was that in due time I just knew I would turn the corner and all would be better.

Eventually the fruit of my life begin to smell. My unbelief became sour, my fleshly love started decaying, and my despair was beginning to cause my religious façade to crack. It was at that time I knew that in all my religious endeavors, my life was running amuck. I clearly lacked joy because purity was missing from my devotion to God. I was dissatisfied and fought the temptation to look to fleshly means to inspire me in some way because the spiritual attraction I once had was fading. I felt empty and lost, and it seemed that everything was beginning to close in on me like vice grips. I had to admit that all my religious attempts did not make me more spiritual; rather, they simply made me more earthbound, lost in a cesspool of ridiculousness, which caused me to become more of a natural, soulish person who was losing all sense of my heavenly identification.

It was at the lowest most miserable point of that period that I repented. Once I got turned around I realized that instead of going the ways of conversion, I went the way of religion. For example, Peter was told on the night that he denied he even knew Jesus that Satan would sift him, but once he was converted he needed to encourage the others.

One would think that Peter was converted. He was in a sense. He was converted to the reality of who Christ was through the revelation of heaven, but he was not privy to who he was in light of his fallen disposition. He did not understand that to address the “old man” in him, he had to be constantly converted to the ways of righteousness as established by God. Until, he realized the utter failure of the old, he would see no need to be converted to the new.

I realized my religious detour involved taking one step off of the path of righteousness established by conversion by way of religion. It was only after I realized what Christianity entails that I discovered the true religion of Christianity. James 1:27 summarizes it in this way,“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” It takes godly love that will be disciplined by the Holy Spirit to express itself in gentleness, goodness, and meekness towards others; and, it takes faith and obedience to remain untouched by the influence and ways of the world.  However, to maintain such a state will result in joy and peace because your relationship with the Lord will remain intact.

Since my repentance from the ways of the “old man” and conversion to the ways of righteousness, I have tried to honestly examine my attitude and conduct. I am aware that both reflect my disposition and the spirit that is motivating and influencing me.

How about you? Are you divorced from properly discerning the fruit of your life, or are you honestly choosing the ways of righteousness?