Outside the Camp of Religion
As the end time approaches, God will be calling His people out of man made religion into the fullness of life in the Spirit. Even now, a gradual separating is taking place at the hand of the Holy Spirit. The world is bombarding the vast majority of Christian believers with its ways and the passive tendency to take the road most traveled. A remnant of true followers is hearing the cry of the Spirit to ignore the propaganda of religious dogma and simply hear the voice of God and follow Him. To help clarify this truth I have written chapter 14 of my book The Eliezer Call on this subject.
Allow me to define religion as the tendency to proceed without God. There is no way to proceed without the power and direction of God if we truly wish to be followers of Christ. Religion constantly offers us ways to proceed without Him. It replaces His presence with entertainment, His truth with denominational dogma, His power with programs, His love with human emotion, His gifts with human cleverness, and His kingdom with the ministries of persuasive men. To walk with Him means to abandon all of our agendas and human ability and embrace His will and purpose in all areas of our lives.
The writer of Hebrews wrote to help the early believers make the transition from the Hebrew religion to spiritual life in Christ. Throughout its pages, it takes us from the limitations of Jewish religion to the unlimited freedom of life in Christ. The book turns our eyes from the earthly temple to the spiritual temple of the church, from the earthly covenant to a new covenant in Christ, from the earthly priesthood to the priesthood of all believers, with Christ as High Priest. It ushers us from religion with all its frustrating dead ends to the glorious eternal manifestation of the New Jerusalem, and the church, its earthly representation (Heb. 4:14; 8:1, 13; 12:22-24).
Though these words were addressed to the early Hebrew believers, they are applicable to us today because we constantly face the tendency to return to the comfortable complacency of human religion. Today, passive, legalistic, program-oriented Christianity beckons us to its broad pathway of cheap grace and Godless holiness. We must heed the admonition of the book of Hebrews to enter our rest by ceasing from the works of our own hands (4:10-12). The danger they faced was returning to the human programs of the Hebrew religion and our danger is continuing to embrace the spiritually empty programs of man-made Christianity.
The book of Hebrews comes to a grand conclusion by reminding believers that they have not come to a human religion with earthly manifestations but
…to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the
firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the
spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new
covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood
of Abel (12:22-24).
If we are true followers of Christ, we have come to this place in the Spirit where God the Father and the Son gather with the present and past saints and the great host of angelic messengers in the heavenly city sought by Abraham, the father of faith, founded on the blood of Jesus. This is a place where only genuine followers of the Lord come because He joins us there with all who are made perfect in the blood of His New Covenant. It is not an earthly place that men can manipulate to their pleasure but a place in the Spirit where human cleverness melts away in the holy fire of His presence. This is no make-believe place of parables and stories but the secret place of the Most High where the redeemed can abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
Are you willing to come to this place?
Are you willing to come to this place where all persuasive words of human wisdom must give way to the demonstration of the Spirit and His power? Are you willing to abandon the winds of doctrine that cast you about like a cork on a storm-driven sea? Can you set aside the human cunning, craftiness and deceitful schemes conceived in the womb of religion? If you are willing to come to this place, you will face the reproach of men captured by religion and unknowingly driven by its devilish creator.
Religion challenges God's word
The serpent instituted human religion in the Garden of Eden when he challenged the word of God with his clever replacement of God’s word with his worldview. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” his deception begins (Gen. 3:1). When the woman repeated God’s warning that death would follow disobedience, the serpent continued: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).
Here Satan cleverly replaces God’s word with his worldview. It was Satan’s plot to introduce the religious notion that “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Religion always replaces God’s clear word with a way for man to gain enlightenment on his own without God. It enables man to find knowledge of good and evil apart from God and His power. Whether we call it Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity, if a teaching replaces God’s word with a man-made way of knowledge, it is religion; and religion simply provides us with a way to live without depending on God’s life and power.
Two trees were in the Garden of Eden – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life represents God’s way, the way of life, the way of the Spirit. To go this way one must be in fellowship with the God of life, worshipping Him, praying to Him, talking to Him and hearing Him speak. To eat from the tree of life we must be in fellowship with the one who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
The other tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree represents the way of natural human ability that does not need God--the way of religion. It is the way of the serpent who slyly says, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Oh, yes, you will be like God when you eat of this tree because you will be able to make your own decisions about good and evil and move independently of His life. You will have your own life and you will not need God. You will not need to consult Him or rely on His Spirit because you will have your own inner ability to proceed. The way of religion is convenient and elevates self and the independent nature of fallen humanity. You will not need God because you will become your own god. You will do what they did in the days of the judges when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Which tree are we eating from?
The Christian institution that develops programs and builds buildings without consulting God is nothing more than a religion and is depending on the tree of religion for its sustenance. We may attach the word “church” to its name but it is relying on a way to know good and evil that does not require consulting with God. Prayer that seeks the will of God becomes a useless activity in religious circles because it is easier to rely on one’s own reasoning ability. Why should we pray when we can just make a good decision based on logic and common sense? In this place of error, we have found a way to proceed without taking God at His word and without consulting Him. We have found religion.
As the book of Hebrews concludes, its writer beckons his readers to come away from religion into the freedom of Christ’s presence:
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places
by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus
also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his
own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach
he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is
to come (Heb. 13:10-14).
The writer of Hebrews calls his readers to come “outside the camp” where Jesus is. From the very beginning, He was there beyond the walls of religion. His birth was not a noble one but a lowly birth in a stable in Bethlehem to lowly people of the remote city of Nazareth. Those who announced His coming were not priests or prophets but shepherds from the field and heathen Magi from the East. The man who prepared the way for Him was not a noted religious herald but a radical rebel from the wilderness. To prepare for ministry He did not go to the elite schools of the day but was led by the Spirit into the wilderness beyond the Jordan. He did not join the religious hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day but boldly called them into account for their behavior. Religion had Him arrested, condemned and crucified. Its leaders led Him out of their great city with its grand temple beyond the gates to the place of ridicule and reproach. There, beyond the walls of religion, He died for us.
Jesus was always outside the camp so it was appropriate that He die outside the camp bearing the reproach of men of power and prestige. Jesus knew of Cain who approached God with his vegetables, symbols of his religious rebellion against God. Cain brought what he had produced instead of what God commanded. This is the rebellious way of religion. It devises a way to replace the word of God with knowledge of good and evil devised by man. Religion says, “Look what we have accomplished!” instead of marveling at the works of God.
The people of Babel continued this folly. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). Satan’s religion continued its development in the building of the tower. We can see two certain marks of religion in the words of the people of Babel. First, they wanted to reach to the heavens. Religion always tries to provide a way to heaven apart from the way God has provided. Jesus is the way but men reject Him and God’s provision because they want to do it their way and in their time. Even so-called Christian churches often do not consult with God and in the process they build something that is by and for themselves and not by and for Him.
Do we make a name for ourselves or take His name?
The second mark of religion revealed in their words was their desire to make a name for themselves. God wants a people who are called by His name, but religious men want to make a name for themselves. Their actions attract attention to themselves. They get the glory while they pretend to give glory to God. Religion is expressed in outward activities that appear to be holy but is driven by inward selfish motives that are unholy to the core. Religious people are sure to have a marquis that announces who they are and what they have accomplished. True holiness will always give glory to the Lord and bow down to His name.
Reproach will follow those who leave the camp
The passage in Hebrews 13:13 tells us that those who go forth to Jesus beyond the gate must bear His reproach. It has baffled me for years why Christians so quickly reproach those who choose not to go the way of religion but simply want to follow Christ. They consider such people outcasts and rebels because they have decided to walk by the Spirit and not by the fleshly manipulation of religion. The reproach they often bear is not so much from the world as it is from fellow Christians who insist that they come back inside the walls of religion and help make bricks with those who want to build a fleshly tower. They are ridiculed for their stand and ostracized for their courage to remain where Jesus is. They are crucified with Him and have no choice but to remain there beyond the walls dying to self and living in Christ.
The reproach comes from many sources, political or religious, that are threatened by the presence of the Lord. Down through the centuries those who chose to go beyond the walls of religion were ridiculed, ostracized and killed by these threatened institutions. All of the apostles except John suffered horrendous deaths at their hand. Paul was abandoned by “all who are in Asia” because of the uncompromising stand he took. He was later beheaded. The great religious institution of the fifteenth century burned John Hus at the stake because he challenged their practices and called them to return to God’s word. They dug up the bones of John Wyclif, burned them and scattered them into a nearby stream. His sin was translating the Scriptures into a language that common people could understand. To go to Jesus outside the camp is to bear the reproach of the camp itself.
There are no permanent religious structures beyond the gate
The writer of Hebrews continues with the words, “For here we have no lasting city.” Like Abraham, who sought “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (11:10), those who go to Jesus outside the camp have no lasting city. They have chosen not to build permanent religious structures like the tower of Babel because their eyes are fixed on a heavenly city that God has prepared just for them (11:16).
This “lasting city” is a monument to self, a memorial of religion. It speaks of the spiritual towers we build in our fleshly attempts to reach heaven and gain a name for ourselves. Without being too specific I must say that Christianity has many permanent cities that men have built out of their own cleverness that will not stand in the day of judgment. Only those things that are permeated with the life of Christ will stand in that day. The “cities” we build for our own glory are an abomination to God and only serve to exalt ourselves.
Two years after the writing of the Book of Hebrews the city of Jerusalem and its temple were leveled to the ground by the Roman invaders. Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone would be left standing on another was fulfilled just thirty-five years after He was crucified. This was a fitting sign that God was calling His people out of the city of religion into His spiritual city. And yet men continue to build their permanent cities. Years later, the Christian institution would begin building monuments to their failed attempts to please God. The great cathedrals of Europe and the dead religion they represent are vestiges of the “lasting cities” built by men. Denominational structures continue to this day virtually unchanged from their initial form. Men have their lasting cites because they stopped seeking the spiritual city to come.
These permanent human structures are like the city of Shiloh of the Old Testament. The tabernacle of God once rested there when Joshua prepared to take the land of promise (Josh. 18:1). But the people disobeyed God by carrying the ark of His presence into battle with them in their religious presumption (1 Sam. 4:5-11). As a result, Shiloh became a symbol of God’s former presence.
The Lord used Shiloh as an example when He called Jeremiah to proclaim His word of repentance to Israel. He told Jeremiah to “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel” (Jer. 7:12). Though God once dwelled there, Shiloh came to be just another dead city later destroyed by the enemy.
The problem is the people of Israel were trusting in the outward frills of religion while rejecting their God. The Lord told Jeremiah, “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’” (Jer. 7:4). They were putting their trust in a building, forgetting that God’s presence is the only thing that matters. No matter how many times they cried “the temple of the Lord,” God would not bless them while they rejected His word.
Today many put their trust in buildings, programs, and clever ideas because they mistakenly believe that God will bless whatever they do. Many fail to realize that God blesses only His will and purpose declared in His words to us. If we are building something out of our own selfish motives, it will not bless Him and He will not bless it. We must come to seek His will and purpose in prayer and have a heart to obey what He tells us.
I came to Christ with the help of God’s word in Ephesians 2:8-10. The last verse of that passage says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Notice that God has prepared works for us before we knew Him. He predestined and prepared the works in which we are to walk. We do not get to choose to do whatever we want because it suits our fancy. There are sacred, God-anointed things that God has called us to and we must seek to know what they are. Everything else is for our own pleasure and glory. Religion sets its own agenda and walks presumptuously in it, but God calls us to His agenda and asks us to seek it in prayer.
Religion compromises with the world
There are many differences between the true church and religion. Religion manifests in an institution that exists for its own purposes. The church is a called out people, separated to God for His purpose. Religion is expressed in a human organization controlled by men. The church is a spiritual organism empowered and controlled by the life of God. Religion compromises with the world and its hellish creator. The church defeats hell and its worldly expression in the name of Jesus. Religion progresses by human power and ability. The church is led by the Holy Spirit and empowered by His presence.
The choice seems simple enough. Why would anyone want to be part of a religious expression devoid of the presence of God that is merely going through empty motions for its own survival? How could that be compared to victorious life in Christ empowered by His Spirit and blessed with His presence?
But life in Christ demands that we come to Him. He is not in the human monuments that glorify men and their achievements. He is beyond the gate of the religious city and there beckons His faithful to come to Him and experience the freedom of His presence. But there is an altar there, an altar from which religious people have no right to eat (Heb. 13:10). The altar is the cross where He died. To come to Him we must be willing to come to that altar and present ourselves to Him. Religion and the world will scorn us but He is there and that is why we must go outside the camp to be with Him.
I know this is a hard message. I am not seeking to purposely offend any person or group of believers. My only aim is to be faithful to what God puts on my heart. I pray that you will prayerful consider what I have written in the light of God’s word and His Spirit. May God’s grace and peace overflow in your lives as you seek Him and His perfect will.