Spirit-Filled Pastor: Why So Many Christians Get Caught in Religious Bondage

Are you caught in religious bondage? (Photo by Sonny Ravesteijn on Unsplash)

Note: Click here for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

The most common form of covenant relationship today is marriage. It is the most intimate and loving of all relationships and serves as the earthly example of the type of bond that God envisioned with His people. When the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, God was the knight in shining armor who slew the Egyptian dragon and gave them their freedom.

After their deliverance, God continued to woo them and prove His commitment by supernaturally supplying water, food and direction in the desert. Free from their oppressors, free from their labors and free to determine the paths their lives should take, they were also free to accept or reject God's invitation to covenant relationship, His invitation to marriage.

Moses relayed the invitation of covenant with God to the people, and he had scarcely finished speaking when they replied, "All that the Lord has said we will do" (Ex. 24:7a). Israel agreed to enter into covenant relationship with God.

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Prepare to Meet God

Moses returned to the mountain and "brought back the words of the people to the Lord." Then God gave Moses His plan for revealing Himself to the people of Israel, His self-revelation so that they might be brought to a position of faith: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Indeed, I am going to come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and always believe in you'" (Ex. 19:9). God wanted the people to hear His voice for themselves. God knew that without such a revelation of His character, the people could not fulfill their destiny as a holy nation or keep His commandments.

As a means of consecrating and purifying themselves for their encounter with God, the people were instructed to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual relations. After two days of purification, the appointed day arrived when God came down upon Mount Sinai so all the people might see Him and hear His voice. To fulfill their destiny, they needed to know God in a way they never had known Him before. There were, however, limits to the degree of intimacy the people would experience with God.

The mountain was set apart from the people by clearly defined boundaries. If any man, woman or beast dared to trespass the established boundaries, they would be put to death. Although their relationship was to be personal, boundaries of familiarity could not be crossed. God is holy and cannot be approached by sinful man without the greater purification that one day would be provided by the blood of Jesus Christ.

What Happened When It Thundered?

That morning a thick, dark cloud descended upon the mountain with thunder and lightning; and the sound of a trumpet was heard coming from the mountain. The trumpet of God Himself called His people to assemble at the base of the mountain to receive the commandments. During this holy moment of matrimony, the people were to get a more intimate knowledge of their bridegroom. As Moses led the people from the camp, the mountain began to shake and become completely covered in dark smoke because the fire of the presence of God descended upon it.

Then the Lord spoke the commandments directly to the people assembled at the mountain. The account of this event is found in the book of Deuteronomy. After Moses read the Ten Commandments to the people he declared:

"These are the words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness with a great voice, and He added no more. He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me" (Deut. 5:22).

It had always been God's intention for the people to hear His commandments spoken to them. Their reaction to His voice was disappointing:

"All the people witnessed the thunder and the lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. They said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will listen, but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.' Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear, for God has come to test you, so that the fear of Him may be before you so that you do not sin.' The people stood a distance away as Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was" (Ex. 20:18-21).

Moses told the people that God was testing them (nasah in Hebrew). The word carries with it the idea of testing in order to see what kind of response is generated. God was testing the people to see how they would respond to a revelation of His power and glory; however, instead of drawing near to God, they distanced themselves from His presence.

Their refusal to appreciate and relate to God in His holiness made it impossible for them to honor the commandments because they chose not to engage themselves in the relationship that was the foundation of the commandments. Moses encouraged them to draw near to God, because without a proper appreciation for His holy and awesome character, remaining faithful to the commandments would be difficult. Intimate knowledge of the majesty of God is a prerequisite for avoiding sin and keeping His covenant!

The Israelites' reluctance to pursue a relationship with God had immediate consequences. The Bible records in painful detail how swiftly the Israelites abandoned their covenant vows; in fact, before Moses returned from the mountain with the written commandments, the people had already fallen into idolatry, worshipping gods of wood and gold. Within two generations, their enemies were defeating them and taking the land God had given them. From time to time, the nation prospered under righteous leaders who knew God, such as David, Solomon, Josiah, Ezra and Nehemiah, and they obeyed the commandments and embraced His covenant, but the majority of the people remained distant from Him. Consequently, for the most part, the nation never fulfilled its destiny.

During a particularly dark period of Israel's history, a group of reformers known as Hasidim (pious people) called Israel to return to God by keeping His covenant and obeying His law. Under the direction of the Hasidim, leaders arose who revolted against the foreign powers that ruled and established their own king over Israel. Their independence was short, and the nation was once again subjected to a foreign power (Rome), but the zeal for the law and covenant found in the Hasidim continued to exist and eventually developed into the religious sect known as the Pharisees.

In today's Christian culture, the term "Pharisee" is a rather uncomplimentary term applied to those who have self-righteous, condescending attitudes. Consider, however, that Jesus never criticized the Pharisees just because they were Pharisees:

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do their works. For they speak, but do nothing" (Matt. 23:2-3).

Jesus affirmed the Pharisees as teachers of God's law to the people; He even went so far as to instruct the people to obey their words. The criticism brought against them was that they were hypocrites; they failed to practice what they had preached. How could they have such zeal and passion for the Law yet fail to obey and please God?

The Mistake the Pharisees Made

Before his conversion to Christianity, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee. Through the Spirit of Christ, he had come to understand that the problem was not one of passion, but of knowledge:

"For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:2-3).

The Pharisees made the mistake of trying to keep the commandments of God without knowing the God of the commandments. They got caught up in human efforts of keeping the law without pursuing a relationship with God, who gave it to them. Because they did not know God, they twisted His law to avoid the need for submitting to Him.

When the people received the commandments at Mount Sinai, they failed to press in to an intimate knowledge of God and so they were not able to keep His commandments. Why? Because the Bible teaches that the letter of the law without the knowledge of God that comes through the Spirit of Christ—kills.

It is not possible to understand and interpret God's law accurately without an intimate knowledge of Him. Many Christians today are defeated and live in religious bondage because they try to keep God's commandments without truly knowing the spirit behind them. They are caught in a routine of religious activity and practice, but their hearts are cold toward God, and they are not experiencing the joy of fulfilling their true purpose. It is only in Jesus that men receive the law (truth) and the restoration of relationship (grace) that enables us to walk faithfully with God in the richness of our callings.

Let's get to know the God of the commandments and be renewed in our hearts and minds by Him. Only then will the spirit of the Ten Commandments be at work in our everyday lives. I want to challenge you: See God and the revelation of His love as you read through the Ten Commandments. Write them out and ponder them in light of God's love; ask God for His grace to live them out in your life. As you do, see how God brings life and restoration to areas you thought were impossible!

Join us for a spiritual reset by going to somebodycares.org/reset/.

Doug Stringer is founder and president of Somebody Cares America and Somebody Cares International, a global network bringing hope and healing to communities through prayer initiatives, compassion outreaches and cooperative efforts. He is the author of numerous books, including In Search of a Father's Blessing and Leadership Awakening: Foundational Principles for Lasting Success.

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