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Summary: If you want to be free from a guilty conscience, don’t depend on restrictive religion, which is limited by its procedures, its place, its people, and its purifying power.

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Two neighbor boys were the best of friends on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On Sunday, however, they didn’t talk to each other, because one was a Catholic and the other was a Baptist.

Their parents were concerned, so they agreed to let their sons visit each other’s church services, so that a mutual understanding might lead to a little more tolerance.

On the first Sunday, the Baptist boy visited the Catholic church. Just before they sat down, the Catholic boy genuflected. “What's that mean?” the Baptist asked. All through the mass, the Baptist boy wanted to know what this and that meant, and the little Catholic boy explained everything very nicely.

The next Sunday it was the Catholic boy's turn to visit the Baptist church. When they walked in the building, an usher handed them a printed bulletin. The little Catholic boy had never seen anything like that before in his whole life. "What's that mean?" he asked. His Baptist friend carefully explained. When the preacher stepped into the pulpit, he carefully opened his Bible, and conspicuously took off his watch and laid it on the pulpit. “What's that mean?” the Catholic boy asked.

The Baptist boy replied, “Not a darn thing!” (Justin Wilson and Howard Jacobs, Cajun Humor, Pelican Press, 1984; www. PreachingToday.com)

Every religion has its rituals, but all too often those rituals have lost their meaning. In fact, if you approach God based on religious ritual, it can be downright restrictive. If you look for freedom from guilt in the performance of sacred ceremonies, life can become very constricting.

But that’s not the way God intended for you to relate to Him. God desires a real, genuine relationship with you, the kind of relationship that sets you free. Restrictive religion, on the other hand, just puts you in bondage. If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 9, Hebrews 9, where God’s Word shows us the difference between a restrictive religion and a redemptive relationship with God.

Hebrews 9:1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. (ESV)

The “first covenant” is the Old Testament Law, which is the basis for the Jewish religion. It has strict regulations as to how and where a person could worship God. Among the many rituals, the “first covenant” describes five (5) different sacrifices a worshipper should bring to God, and the worshipper had to prepare each one in a specific way. The worshipper offered each sacrifice in accordance with its own precise regulations and only in one place – an “earthly” sanctuary.

It was very restrictive, and this is not only true of the Jewish religion, but also of all earthly religions. So if you want to be free from sin and a guilty conscience, don’t depend on any restrictive, earthly religion.

DON’T DEPEND ON RELIGION, WHICH LIMITS YOU BY ITS PROCEDURES.

Don’t rely on rules and rituals, which restrict you by their regulations.

Just a few years ago (June 2011), the city of Alemeda, California, immediately changed its policies after first responders stood by and watched a man drown in San Francisco Bay. The first responders didn't venture into the muddy waters of the bay, even as the suicidal man started treading water and then eventually went under.

According to Michael D'Orazi, the Interim Fire Chief for Alemeda at the time, two things prevented authorities from taking action: First, because it was a crime scene, the police “felt that going into the water initially might not be the best idea because they were unsure if this individual was armed.” Secondly, D'Orazi also said, “There was a policy in place that pretty much precluded our people from entering the water.” The firefighters “were incredibly frustrated by this whole situation [because] they wanted to get in; they wanted to take action.”

Local officials also noted that due to a lack of funding, firefighters had no one properly trained to go into the water. The Alemeda Interim Police Chief was also quoted to say, “It's muddy out there. We don't want [the police officers] sinking. We don't want them in distress.”

Fortunately, the policies were changed only a few days after this incident. (“Authorities make changes after first responders watch man drown,” CNN.com, 6-1-11; www.PreachingToday. com)

When the rules you follow keep you from loving God and from loving others, its time to change the rules. Often, religion just gets in the way of your relationship with God and people, so don’t relate to God in that way. If you want to be free from a guilty conscience, don’t depend on religion, which limits you by its procedures. Furthermore…

DON’T DEPEND ON RELIGION, WHICH LIMITS YOU BY ITS PLACE.

Don’t rely on rules and rituals, which are tied to this world. Don’t count on sacred ceremonies, which are restricted to temporary, earthly sanctuaries.

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