The Flesh and Religion

The Flesh and Religion

Donald L. Norbie

Mr. Donald L. Norbie of Greeley. Colorado, serves the Lord in a number of ways, including work among students.

What does the flesh want in religion? By the flesh we mean that natural bent of the unredeemed man which is also resident in the believer. What does man’s natural heart gravitate towards in worship?

The flesh desires visible objects of worship. To be alone with the invisible God is a devastating experience for natural man.

When Moses was high on Mt. Sinai alone with God, the people felt threatened without some tangible object to worship. They cried to Aaron, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us” (Ex. 32:1). Earrings were gathered and melted down. A mold was made and soon a golden calf or bull stood before the people. They were ecstatic. Now they could truly worship Jehovah.

Later David wanted to build God a magnificent temple. The Lord objected at first. He was quite content with a tent for a meeting place (1 Chron. 17:4-6). But He permitted the temple to be built.

Today the crowds still flock to elaborate, costly buildings. And the further a group departs from the Word, the more stress is placed upon the building, the liturgy and the objects to aid worship.

The flesh also prefers submission to one strong leader. Israel’s cry to Samuel was, “Make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5). Leadership by elders was not enough for them. God warned them of the cost involved and then gave them their desire.

The first century churches were led by elders. But early in the second century Ignatius began to press for one bishop over each church, one strong leader. The movement swept the churches so that in a few centuries leadership by elders was only a dim memory. Amazing, isn’t it? Surely it reveals the natural bent of the human heart.

The Roman Catholic Church has a strong clergy system. But even the Reformation with all of its emphasis on New Testament purity did not shed itself of the clergy system. One man was chosen as the pastor of each church.

Today large congregations gather around the charismatic personalities of powerful preachers. It seems easier for us to follow a man than God. Observe the adoration and ecstacy of the masses as the Pope moves through their midst. And one day the Antichrist will exploit this tendency to the full.

Another tendency of the flesh is laziness. Man prefers a professional cast to do his religion for him. He prefers to be free to live his own life and to attend religious functions at his convenience. And he will pay such to carry on his religious services.

The flesh, too, is seen in the church’s constant tendency to conform to the world’s ethics and standards. It is much easier to drift with the current than to struggle against it. Churches are drifting today. Scriptural teaching on the woman’s role is being rejected. Evangelical seminaries are training women to become pastors and church leaders. The differences in the roles of the man and woman are quite blurred in many quarters today.

Divorce is common with little outcry against the destruction of the family. Church leaders now divorce and remarry with no rebuke. Abortion also is increasingly accepted.

But the cry of Scripture is to be holy and not to conform to the world (Rom. 12:1, 2). The church is called to be different, to be a prophetic voice for God, “to shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). She is called to be obedient to the Lord and to His Word, to proclaim by her conduct that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” And she is called to put flesh to death rather than to be swayed by it (Col. 3:5), and to keep herself “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).