How do we get into religious bondage?
An example of religious bondage is when someone takes something that is technically a good thing from scripture and uses it for the wrong purposes. Another form of it is when someone has a personal conviction and tries to impose it on others. Though it may be good for one person, it may not be for everyone.
Before I go too far I want to say that this is an issue that all humans deal with. The mature Christian learns to sort this out and realizes that though God may deal with one person on a particular thing, He may not with someone else. There could be a number of reasons for this but as it says Romans 14:5, “…Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” I also want to add that personal conviction does not apply to specific scriptural instruction. When we have instruction on either what to do or what not to do it, we are expected to follow it.
Here however is where another form of religious bondage sets in. The Apostle Paul said to Timothy, (1 Timothy 1:8) “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” Jesus spoke (Matthew 23:23) saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” They focused on an aspect of the Law but not the heart of it.
So how does one use the Law lawfully as Paul instructed? In order to do this we must understand why the Law exists. First, we often look at God’s Law as His rules and to a degree this is true. God’s law can be understood best as His words of knowledge and instruction and in a broad sense as the Bible. Specifically, when speaking about God’s law as the rules to follow, they were given in order to show us what sin is. It was to reveal what separates us from God. It was to point us into the direction of salvation by first showing us that we needed a savior.
Salvation is the freedom that the Bible talks about. Religious bondage is an attitude or promotion of ideas that keeps people in the bondage that God’s salvation frees them from and often times uses God’s law to do it. Let me give a few examples and see if they feel familiar. You must wear your hair or clothes a certain way to be accepted. You can’t or must eat certain foods. You have to be part of a certain denomination to be right with God. You can only get to God if you go here or there. You have to read a certain version of the Bible. See, some of these things may have started in some truth but they always lead to something extreme that God never inhabits. There may be elements of good in them, but taken too far simply bind people.
So how do we know? If the Bible doesn’t say specifically and clearly then it is subject to conviction. If you notice, with things that people commonly have issues with in religion, they aren’t typically clear scripturally. Take prayer for example. The Bible say a lot about prayer in the sense of it needs to be done and even outlines things to pray for, but there isn’t specific instruction on what exactly it looks like. That’s because prayer is about relationship and not rule and if it becomes rule it ceases to be relationship. Now, as I said there is plenty about prayer, but not typically in the areas most focus on. Do it often, do it boldly in faith, do it to God, but don’t do it religiously. You don’t have to pray in a closet, in a group, with certain words or for specific amounts of time.
I want to emphasize, refusing religious bondage is not the same as a spiritual free for all. The Bible certainly gives us rules and guidelines, but those are intended to bring true freedom. Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” 1 Peter 2:16 says, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” Freedom in the bounds of what is clearly taught in scripture is freedom indeed. Anything else is simply distraction from the truth.