You know, I must have read the book of Galatians at least a dozen times and not once has the following statement from the Apostle Paul even remotely caught my eye or captured my imagination: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
Wow, simply, wow. How can I have possibly missed such a monumental, foundational, intricate premise of what faith truly is? How after all these years of calling myself a Christian, I have been unable to see what was staring me in the face every time I opened my bible? I tell you why. It’s because of what is at the core of Paul’s statement. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves or how others try to persuade us, because it suits their own ends, man cannot find God himself in a church building, in legalistic religion, in Alpha courses, Christian mass gatherings or Christian wanna-be rock star worship concerts. Yes, being part of all those things may or may not reinforce our faith once we are blessed with it, but the revelation of God himself to us cannot, does not, in my own experience and that of the Apostle Paul, it seems, take place through make-believe by others’ own experiences or the teachings of men and women whose livelihood depends on those very teachings.
And why is that, you may ask? It is simple: purity of motives, purity of heart. Paul said: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I have now been out of the church system for almost decade. I look back after all this time and am still staggered and often ashamed at the person I became when I was caught in all the hype and intensity of the machinery that collective organised religion truly is. When you enter into that world you are swept by the romantic notion of a mirage. You are sustained literally by gravitational forces which only require of you to feed into that machinery, be it financially, emotionally, or physically. In return, you became part of this prefabricated bubble of everlasting joy come rain, hail, earthquake or fire. The reality is that for the majority it is only whilst we remain part of this ‘community’ or ‘social club’, that we feel God’s redemptive presence and grace in our lives, or at least the kind of presence we have been taught to believe is the ‘real McCoy’ of spiritual God-encounters or revelations. I don’t want to be sustained by man’s regurgitated idea of God. Like Paul, my spirit can only be set on transformational, purifying fire by a revelation from God himself.
I have a severe allergy to phoniness. When my spirit becomes aware of its presence, I feel physically sick, nauseated, my heart races, and my chest struggles to breath freely. Finding out whether God exists should surely be a quest each of us should make our number one priority or at least if we decide to enter into that quest, we should enter it on our own and NEVER rely on someone else’s word of what is true and what is not; relying on someone else to do all the hard work; to ask the difficult questions and handle the often even scarier answers. Just as we do not eat food which has been chewed and broken down by others first, because by the time it gets to us it has lost all its flavour and nourishment, we shouldn’t entrust our spiritual health and development to another person.
And yet we are shockingly lazy and bafflingly stupid as we rely on someone else’s answers to what surely is the most important question humankind will ever ask: Does God exist and if he does, how does this revelation affect how I live my life, the reason of why I am here, the purpose for which I live?
I very much feel like I have been through a process of spiritual rehab and cleansing in these last few years. Withdrawn from all things ‘church’ and from do-gooders or the blind leading the blind constantly whispering in my ear, I have surely but gradually come to realise that indeed many of the things I had come to believe immersed in my local church joyous bubble, are not wheat but tares, fruitless, powerless, empty chimeras that lead nowhere but to the growth and enrichment of an institution and those whose lives and reputation depend on it. Harsh? Maybe, but true and truth is all I seek, no matter at what cost. Someone else’s experience may be different. I can only speak for my own. Somehow, judging by where the world is at today, I am pretty certain my experience is that of millions of people across the globe.
I often wonder, and I mean often, why the world is in the state that is in when there are millions of Christians scattered all over the earth. Why are churches closing and church attendance diminishing. Why is a church’s budget directed in so many cases to a bigger, flashier, highly tech building,highly trained and well travelled staff and resources instead of to the least of these, the poor, the orphans, the widows, etc as Jesus so clearly asked us to do time and time again? And every time I ask this question I come to the same conclusions. Only, today, on reading that passage of Galatians, the answer has stared me painfully right in the face: Only a handful of Christians today act on direct revelation from God. The rest of us think spreading the gospel is simply staging, be it through words or actions, the epiphany that someone else has had. That is not faith, not true faith anyway, the kind of faith that results in a new creation, a heart and spirit truly on fire for Jesus Christ and his gospel; the kind of miraculous faith that turned Paul from persecuting and murdering Christians to risking his own life for the gospel. And because of it the millions of Christians who display a pseudo faith instead of what Paul describes as revelation from God himself, are rendered absolutely powerless in genuinely drawing others to the true knowledge of Christ. None of us will ever bring another person to God until we experience, as Paul did, a revelation of the gospel by Jesus Christ himself.
I left the confinements and restrictions of The Church a long time ago, but the good news I bring to you today is that I still can see HIS face.