“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.”
1 John 4:15
My ministry used to be very aggressive toward religious Christians. Over the years, I’ve grown in love for them—but the hurt that self-righteous Christians caused me left a huge open wound in my soul. When I say “religious Christians,” I’m not trying to disrespect anyone. Instead, I’m pulling back the curtain and exposing a cancer in the Christian community. I’m talking about self-proclaimed Christians who have certain characteristics which keep the lost, lost, and new believers stuck in fear and condemnation.
Religious Christians have attitudes of extreme coldness and judgment, not just toward non-believers, but other Christians as well. “*Gasp*! Did you see what she wore today?” Or, “How dare they talk about that in the pulpit!” And even, “They skipped church, again? I bet they’re going to hell now. I’d never miss a service! Backslider!”
They believe it’s their calling to pick apart the lives of others in such a way that there’s no breathing room, nor any room for growth in Christ’s guidance. These are the people who say, “You are getting what you deserve!” when all you want is some mercy. They show no grace, no unconditional love, no true forgiveness, and no hope for the lost.
They are against the world rather than being for Jesus. They bathe in severe criticism and their judgment is coming to you whether you’re a believer or not. “And don’t you forget!” they’ll say, “The rules I’ve put in place are for everyone to abide by. Break them, and you’re out!”
Are they saved? Sure, they could be. Actions and attitudes don’t determine salvation–only a one-time faith in Christ’s forgiveness does. But if they are saved, they’ve forgotten who they are.
Religious Christians want to give lessons to everyone on how not to sin. “Be like me and you’ll be holy!” is their philosophy. Teaching others how to walk in their footsteps may be their favorite thing to do. Oh, and if you do sin, you’ve insulted them. “Don’t you dare curse in front of me!” “You’re gay? You better stop that immediately or you’re going to hell!” “You didn’t get baptized? Well then you’re not really a Christian!” They act as if they have a heaven or hell to throw you into. And when you sin, you’ve insulted the “godliness” in them.
Which, sure, as Christians we have a buzzer that goes off in our hearts which notices sin–the Holy Spirit is pressing that button. We weren’t made to sin, so sin will never be okay with us, no matter how long we stay in denial about it (see Romans 6:2,18). The real us doesn’t even want to sin. The flesh might get a quick thrill from it, but afterwards we know it wasn’t worth it–every time.
Also, the religious Christians won’t dare give you a compliment. And if they do, it’s conditional on you doing exactly as they say. Even worse, their ratio of harsh-discernment-to-grace is 90/10. It’s all out of whack, and this is a repellent to a new believer. They don’t counsel with love, they condemn with fury. They’re trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit and they can’t—none of us can. When we try, all it does is create tremendous fear and frustration in a weak or new Christian.
But their rigid prejudice is not just for new believers—it’s for lifelong Christians as well! Sadly, when they have this holier-than-thou demeanor toward mature Christians it creates severe conflict. For the religious Christians, nothing is done out of love, it’s all based on you “shaping up” like them.
This is why we must remember what Paul said when he wrote to Timothy:
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (see 2 Timothy 1:9)
Religious Christians also enjoy showing off their “level” of repentance, their church attendance, and church work. I’m all for these things–these are good! But we must ask ourselves a question when doing anything for God: “Why am I really doing this?” and the answer should always be, “Because I love God and this is who I am.”
Last but not least, religious Christians attack other churches and preachers who aren’t just like them. Not everyone agrees on everything and that’s normal, fine, and okay–we are human. But for those who attack others because they aren’t doing things exactly as them? They’re doing it wrong, so wrong. Oh my goodness, this is such a bad thing!
This act of religious Christianity actually caused me to get asked to leave my former church. How? Here’s how: as a Christian who was struggling with alcoholism, who was also addicted to porn, video games, and was living a life completely abusing the grace of God–I needed some gospel baby food—badly. The full course, steak dinner teaching, I could not eat. I hadn’t grown any Christian teeth. It was impossible to listen to a “mean preacher” (back then, that’s what I’d call them), I needed some serious grace in my teaching! I already knew I sucked at life! I didn’t need some dude with a tight suit and comb-over beating that into my head! “YOU CAN KEEP THAT CRAP TO YOURSELF!” was how I thought.
My problem was prideful thinking. I took absolutely everything personal when it came to Christianity and how I needed to change my life. Christ was already in me, I just refused to allow Him to come out. I was a saint who lived like a sinner, so I was rightfully miserable.
Then late one Saturday morning I woke up hungover again, and I felt like I needed to read a Christian book. In hindsight, this was the Holy Spirit nudging me. However, I didn’t have a Christian book. So I got off the couch after binge-eating Chinese food (that’s the best hangover remedy, salty carbs–then you get fat and swollen–what an awful, demonic cycle). I dragged myself to Wal-Mart and picked up a book called Everyday a Friday by Joel Osteen.
This book was just what I needed! If you only knew! This single book was the spark that God used to light the fuse in me which set off who I am today! You would not know who I am, or ever heard of this ministry, had I not listened to the Holy Spirit that Saturday morning! Joel’s book helped save my life!
“Matt, you’re giving Joel too much credit!”
Friend, no, I’m not. Joel made God look good–I had never experienced that from a pastor before. His kind words and encouragement motivated me to start looking within myself to make healthy changes. He taught me how to stop blaming others and take responsibility for my own choices–but he did it so kindly. He never said how bad of a person I was, but instead, how good! And why was I good? Simple: because I was a child of God! He made this so easy to understand!
“Focus on the goodness of God, not on the mistakes and attacks of others. Focus on how you can change in positive ways, don’t focus on your past–not even yesterday.”
This simplistic style of teaching even made me want to go back to church! It made me want to forgive absolutely everyone for everything! It made me begin seeing the good in life–and in myself–rather than the bad! His teaching made me want to begin using my gift of writing for God, rather than against Him! It made me want to have a goal of being an author! It made me want to pray for those who’ve harmed me and actually bless them! Oh so many wonderful things his style of teaching stirred up in me!
His teaching also calmed me. My roaring, aggressive, frustrated mindset was learning new ways of expressing itself from this smiling preacher with corny jokes. The Holy Spirit was using Joel to help renew my mind, and it was good.
In the process of this life change I even started to go back to church. Here’s the problem: I voiced how much Joel had helped me one day to the pastors and they immediately began to rip him apart. This upset me greatly because it was Joel’s teachings which led me to refocus on God. After they knew I was learning from Joel, they began to attack him in their sermons. They started to tell the congregation about how “non-gospel” he was. This hurt me, and it was starting to cause a rift in my soul. I loved Joel. He had helped me get out of a dark pit of desperation by teaching me who I was in Christ.
Eventually, one of the pastors asked me out for coffee and while sitting across the table, he said, “Why don’t you get plugged in at another church?” Isn’t that crazy? How the devil works, even in the inner-circles of church? Here I was, someone on the brink of suicide–everything around me is falling apart–I start to enjoy Joel’s teachings and the pastor of my church asks me to leave? Yeah. That happened.
The enemy wanted me to hate that man, and I almost fell for it! But then God taught me what was really going on. Religion. Not relationship, but religion. Unfortunately this pastor was blind to what everyone truly needs: unconditional love and grace.
The fact of the matter is, yes, I love Joel, but I also love many other teachers, preachers, and authors. God has led me to each person just when I needed them! We all go from glory to glory as we learn more about our true identity as saints! (See 2 Corinthians 3:18). This information comes from different parts of the Body of Christ! Paul tells the Ephesians:
“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)
Joel is good for people, just like everyone else in the Body of Christ is. We learn from others and move forward, hopefully spreading the goodness of God ourselves as we grow in the knowledge of His grace. Every Christian teacher has a different style, which is a good thing! Do I agree with everything that everyone says? No. But so what. We are family. The Holy Spirit will always reveal the truth, and grace abounds even when we’re not exactly right. Paul expresses this foundation of the gospel to the Christians in Philippi:
“As long as Christ is preached, I will continue to rejoice” (see Philippians 1:18)
We have to stop being so critical of our family members and instead love them and support them! God gave each of us a unique style, voice, and testimonial for a reason: to reach people for Christ in different ways!
The Bible says, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God” (see 1 John 4:15). Joel acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God all the time. Because of Joel, I am a life that was changed. If someone is too religious to understand that, then that’s their problem, not mine. Joel helped me, I don’t care what they say.
I began reading, watching, and listening to Joel in 2011. At that time, my life was absolutely crazy and I thought my heart was rotten. I simply could not believe how nice this guy was as a preacher! I had never seen that before! I was used to feeling like I just got beat up after a sermon, not healed up! He was so soft, confident, and inspirational. I needed that desperately. When I began to learn from Joel, I was like a parched flower in the middle of the desert and a tsunami of God’s goodness had just washed over me–it was amazing. His easy-to-understand, digestible gospel, helped me grow.
After a few years, I no longer listened to Joel. It was time to move on to deeper teaching. However, I now had a firm foundation of God’s love for me, as well as the truth of who I really was inside. I’ll be forever grateful to Joel Osteen. He even inspired me to start my own ministry, even though I was scared.
Be easy on Joel. Pray for him. Think of him with love. That’s what we are all called to do as brothers and sisters.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, I want to thank you for leading me to Joel’s teachings. And not just his, but all of the teachers you’ve used to get me to the point I’m at today. I pray that I can do the same for those who are reading this, those who want to make an impact on this planet for you. Strengthen them with your love and confidence! They can do it! If I can do it, through Christ, so can they. Amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 2. Get your copy here!