Do you feel like your church experience is useless, worthless, and empty? If it does, then it probably is, and it is not your fault. The Apostle Peter said,
You know that in the past you were living in a worthless way, a way passed down from the people who lived before you. But you were freed from that useless life of religion. Your freedom was paid for, not with something that ruins like gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, who was like a pure and perfect lamb.
The Greek word ματαιας (mataias) is rendered in various ways, some of which may describe how you feel about church life in your experience. Over the years the words and phrases used to translate I Peter 1:18 have included:
- empty life
- futile ways
- a worthless way
- a useless way of life
- your vain way of living
- the futility of your traditional ways
- the empty folly of your traditional ways
- the aimless way of living which was handed down to you
For many Christians, church life is fine the way it is. They don’t want you to mess with it. They like it the way it is, and don’t feel kindly toward anyone who doesn’t.
But for others, all these descriptions of the religious way of life we have inherited really strike a chord. Church feels aimless, futile, useless, worthless, and empty. And for you, it is. It may not be for everyone, but it is for you.
If you feel this First Peter Dissatisfaction with your life, you may have thought to yourself,
- I need to try harder.
- I’m not holy enough.
- I’m expecting too much.
- I need to witness more.
- I’m not spiritual enough.
- I need to be more patient.
- Maybe I’m not really saved.
- I need more of the Holy Spirit.
- I’m not dedicated to God enough.
- I’d feel different if I had regular devotions.
Notice that all of these thoughts put the blame for your dissatisfaction on you. They all assume that the fault lies with you, that you need to somehow fix yourself in order to fit in with the hierarchy and structures that define your religious life.
If the religious way of life you have inherited is empty and futile, then the problem is not you, but the religious way of life. If you sense that the religious structure that has been passed down to you is worthless and useless, then you need to learn to trust your discernment. If you know in your heart that, for you, the faith tradition you’ve been saddled with is vain and aimless, it’s up to you accept that fact and act accordingly. You need to trust your inner voice no matter what arguments, blandishments, and fears would drown out that still, small voice of the Spirit.
The church tradition to which you belong is over 2,000 years old. The things you do and say, the building in which you sit and the way you sit, all these began evolving 500 years ago, 2,000 years ago. Most of your religious environment is the result of historical conflicts that no longer exist.
There is nothing sacred about habits, structures, and social expectations. In your life and experience, the only things of ultimate value are the people whom you are called to love. Only human beings created in the Imago Dei have sacred worth.
You are not obliged to conform to the useless religion passed down to you through your faith community. You were a slave to sin, and Christ paid for your freedom from slavery to religion with his own blood.
Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb.