The Peril of Religious Flesh

By Francis Frangipane

Two Types of Knowledge
There is a type of knowledge that is doctrinal, theological and instructive, and there is a type of knowledge that is born out of a revelation of God. Both are known as "truth," both produce a certain type of person, and both are accepted as "Christianity."

You can be certain that God wants us to have right doctrines, but we must never content ourselves with merely the accumulation of correct knowledge. For this knowledge often remains just a file of religious facts; where the Word of God is viewed more as a museum than a power plant.

When we halt our spiritual ascent toward God at the plateau of doctrinal knowledge, we become people who never really change. Instead, our old nature simply pretends to be new. The longer we settle for just head knowledge, our Christianity begins to degenerate into a religious spirit.

It takes God to change our stubborn, rebellious natures. And our mighty God does not want us to fake our Christianity. He wants you to be real, where the knowledge of your head becomes the reality of your heart. You see, truth, in God's view, is more than doctrines. It is reality.

The difference between mere doctrinal truth and revelation truth is that, with doctrinal truth the heart of a man may be deceitful, lustful and arrogant yet still maintain a theologically true opinion of God.

The Pharisees had, more or less, a theologically true opinion of God, but Jesus said inwardly they were full of "robbery and self-indulgence" (Matt. 23:25). Outwardly, they looked holy, but all they had was religious flesh. Inwardly, they were false.

David knew God. He visited the tent of God, where he worshiped and prayed. In fact, even after he sinned with Bathesheba he continued the outer form of his relationship, but his heart was from far from God. When he repented, he reverently acknowledged of God, "Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being" (Psalms 51:6).

Doctrinal truth has an illusion about itself: the illusion is that knowledge is the same thing as righteousness. It is not. We all know people who are fault-finders, critical and gossips, yet they are capable of maintaining all the proper doctrines about love. When they speak ill of people they do so with boldness, feeling like they are serving God.

What these people have, is called "religious flesh." On the other hand, truth that comes by revelation always produces change; it always leaves us less sure of our selves, more dependant upon God, and more loving toward others.

To topple the old ways of thinking, God must penetrate and remove the arrogance that guards our ignorance. We must be broken of self-confidence and become God-confident. To break us, God must confront us.

The Sword of God
The primary way we change is through the Spirit-empowered word of God. Again, there are two ways to view the Bible: doctrinally or, as it really is, a two-edged sword. When we read the Bible merely on an intellectual level, we may gain knowledge, which is good, but such knowledge by itself still leaves us intact. If we are not convicted, challenged or more perfectly conformed to Christ when we read the Scriptures, it may be because we have a religious spirit that is limiting the penetration of God's word to our minds.

When the Lord appeared to the Apostle John on Pathos, Christ revealed Himself with a "...sharp, two-edged sword" coming out His mouth; His eyes were two flames of fire. We need to picture this, for God's word is a sword. To whatever degree we fail to see it as such, we are probably serving a religious spirit rather than the Holy Spirit.

Consider also Simeon's prophecy to Mary, Jesus' mother. He said, "...and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" (Lk 2:35). Notice, He did not say, "...and you will learn a lot of handy facts about the Bible so you can win at Bible Trivia." He said that a sword will pierce your heart, and even your thoughts will be revealed.

You see, when you came to Christ, you did not come to a religion, you came to a Person--a Person who knows us as well as He knows His own body. He exposes our hearts: He illuminates those dark, secret areas within us -- not to condemn us but to liberate us from the bondages of sin and deception.

You may say, "Well, I need to hear that the Lord loves me." Yes, that is the most life changing, central truth in the Bible. However, Jesus says that those whom He loves, He reproves and disciplines. He then tells us to be zealous and repent (Rev 3). His love is not on a shelf somewhere, removed from us until we get hurt. No. His love is what motivates His word as He speaks to our hearts to deliver us.

Consider how the Word describes itself: "The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12).

It should be normal for you to be discovering areas God wants to change. It is typical of true Christianity to suddenly see that you have had wrong thoughts or that the intentions of your heart have been carnal. The voice probing into your heart is not the devil; it is God. He wants to set you free from religious flesh.

Sustained By The Revelation Of Christ
When God called Abraham, He called him to a promise that was staggering. Although Abraham was old and childless, God told him he was going to be the 'father of many nations'. Twenty-six years elapsed from Abraham's first encounter with God until his son was born, and throughout the entire process of many ups and downs, the Scripture says, "...and Abraham believed God."

Let me make this very clear: Abraham did not merely believe there was a God; no, Abraham believed what God had said, personally, to him. He had an encounter with God's living word which, like a sword, pierced into his heart. Abraham did not just have a religion about God, he received a promise upon which he built his life.

The faith that saves us is a living response to the word which God speaks to us. Whatever the word says about God's kingdom, His power, His grace and ability to change us, we must accept and believe!

Religious flesh is occupied with pretending to be (or look) good. The spiritual soul has its focus upon the greatness of God, believing that what God has promised, He is able also to perform (Rom 4:21).

Your experience with Christianity will never be sustained by something less than an unfolding relationship with Jesus Christ! The strength of Christianity is Christ! When you are weary, He says come to Him (Matt. 11:28). When you are hungry, come to Him. Thirsty? Come to Him. For every thing we need, He is the way, the truth and the life.

If I don't succeed in inspiring you to draw closer to the Lord, where you hear from Him and are sustained by Him, I have failed in my ministry. Religious flesh is convinced that growth is measured in religious facts. True spirituality, however, is measured in the depth of our hunger for God, where our soul pants "for the Living God" like the deer pants after water.

Religious flesh will never inherit the kingdom of God, but a heart set on being real with God will find God's fullness awaiting him.

Let's pray:

Lord, go deep within us. Help us to hear Your word speaking to us when you come to excavate our soul of unrighteous thoughts and attitudes. Deliver us from religious flesh and lead us into the fulness of Your Spirit. In Jesus' name.