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Usually when non-religious people look at anything to do with religion they think it’s all the same… “religious stuff.” But that’s kind of like thinking all Asian people look the same, and are good at math. Or that Mexicans and Cubans and Argentinians are all the same because they all speak Spanish. Here’s the thing: in the Bible there are at least 3 distinct types of people dealing with God…and everyone who interacts God stuff does so in one of three ways…
Sadduccees (pronounced sad-you-seas): are religious people who focus a lot of attention on power. Political power, or fame, or both…that sort of thing. They believe the way to do God’s will on earth requires them to exercise this power. In a way the early days of Islam reflected this ideology… Also the “conservative evangelicals” of the recent past, and today. I believe their faith is sincere (I’m not talking about those for whom conservative Christianity was just a political tool); and it required them to act in spheres of power.
Pharisees: are religious people who focus a lot on personal obedience and piety. Often times it’s inner piety (prayer, quiet time, studying and believing the “right” doctrine). Sometimes these people feel the need to act out in the public sphere or politically, but generally their focus is on the private life of their faith. They want to be good people. They think of themselves as good people, and so do many of those around them. One hazard for Pharisees is the trap of seeing themselves as superior to the world around them; but to their credit they struggle with THAT (humility) in their inner life as well.
Jesus’ people: are regular people who love Jesus. They’re die hard fans and groupies of His work. They don’t think they need to gain power to change the world because they believe in God’s power. They aren’t fixated on their piety because they believe in God’s sacrifice and record as counting for them vicariously. But because they love God and care what God thinks, they try to do the things He likes.
Now it’s hard sometimes for people to tell these three types apart… Even people in churches can get these confused: think they’re one type when they’re really another. I’ve spent time in all three camps myself, and I’d say the third way is the only way to go.