I’m not just preaching at you. I have to face my own sin…the people I have offended, the harsh things I’ve said, the improper judgments I’ve rendered and the times when I’ve caused a loving God to blush. So why are we such pains? There are four reasons.

In coming to know God, we think we have to be God.

The Bible says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:33-36).

It’s easy to forget that sometimes. We don’t have to defend, protect or stand up for a God who is the essence of sovereignty, power and love. God was doing quite well before we came along and will do fine long after we’re gone. The truth is, protecting God is sort of like protecting a lion.

I’m a teacher. The problem with being a teacher is that one has the proclivity to (try to) fix every problem, to (try to) straighten out every opinion and to (try to) correct every mistake. I don’t and we don’t. Not only that. We don’t have to be right and we’re, in fact, often wrong.

We think we have to lower the standard in order to admit that we don’t live up to it.

The Bible says, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). John, one of Jesus’ disciples, said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

It’s quite easy (and human) to be proud of one’s goodness and, if the goodness isn’t real, to fake it. That sort of thing goes on all the time with those who say one thing and live in a way quite different. It’s even worse with us. We know the rules and can fake it better than people who don’t know the rules.

Then when you add the fact that there’s something about religion that encourages faking obedience, we Christians have a serious problem. We thought, quite wrongly, that we had to be good to get one to listen to what we had to say. We thought, quite wrongly, that if we admitted how often we were wrong and how often we were sinful, we would cause one to think less of Christ. We thought, quite wrongly, that “witnessing” required we witness to our goodness as well as to his.

The truth is that we, as Christians, are simply beggars telling other beggars where we found bread…and not former beggars either. If we pretend to obey all the rules, those who don’t know us will think that Christianity is only for good people. And for those who know us, they will call us hypocrites.

Not being good enough is, in fact, the essence of the Christian faith. The church is the only organization in the world where the only qualification for joining is being unqualified. The church is also the only organization in the world where being unqualified is the only qualification for remaining a part of it. Nobody is good. If we aren’t good people all the time, it doesn’t make us hypocrites; it makes us illustrations of what the Bible and our faith teach. We are people who know we aren’t good and have discovered the One who will forgive us and sometimes even make us better.

When we get a little truth, it’s easy to think that we have all truth.

It was about another issue but the principle is the same. Paul said to one of the churches where there was a lot of judgment about others’ practices, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4).

Christians believe they are right about some very important and eternal truths. The problem comes in when we assume that, because we are right about God, we are also right about politics, the social order, and how people should dress, think and talk.

When we get a little truth, it’s easy to think that we have all truth.

I have a very deep voice and, frankly, it makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about…when the truth is that sometimes I’m very confused. At Key Life, we get a ton of questions from people who want to know what I think about politics, movies, books, culture and, of course, God. Frankly, I don’t know any more about most things than most people. I do know Jesus and, when I tell you about him, you should, at least, pay a modicum of attention. When I drift off into other areas, however, even when I may sound authoritative, let me now give you permission to ignore what I say. Credibility and knowledge in one area of expertise don’t automatically transfer into other areas.

Religion can make us weird.

One of the interesting things about Jesus’ anger is that it was always, without exception, directed not at the people who did bad stuff but at the most religious people in his culture. If you want to read some words that will “singe your hair,” read what Jesus said about the very religious folks in his acquaintance (for example, Matthew 15:1-9 and Matthew 23).

I have to be careful here, but can we talk? Religion can be like a disease. Well, better, like an inoculation of some disease, making one immune to the real thing. Religion can become an “excuse” for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with real religion. For instance, if you are a narrow, mean-spirited twit and you join a religious organization, you will probably still be a narrow, mean-spirited twit with one addition: you will be a narrow, mean-spirited twit in the name of God.

While Christianity is a relationship, Christianity is also a religion with religious institutions, religious ritual, religious symbols, religious confessions and religious training. Christians have to be so careful with our religion because, if we aren’t careful, it’s easy to become nothing but the institution, the ritual, the symbols, the confessions and the training.

Do you know the difference between institutions and institutionalism? The first is the necessary organization for getting anything accomplished or for passing something on. On the other hand, institutionalism is the hardening of institutional arteries.

We can sometimes become so involved in our religious stuff that we don’t take the time to check and see if Jesus has left the building. The truth is that a lot of religious institutions would function quite well even if Jesus did leave. So we need, on occasion, to stop all our religion and just be quiet to see if Jesus is still at the center of what we’re doing.

If he’s not, then we’re in serious trouble.