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Last December, a segment of the popular 60 Minutes television show followed a group of monks who live by themselves on a remote Greek mountain, trying valiantly to “get closer” to Jesus Christ.
These men allow no women to even be on the premises. They cut themselves off—almost completely—from the world and from other people. They grow their own food, and overall have created their own “little world” so they would not need to come into much contact with outside.
They do this because they imagine that their seclusion will help them grow closer to Jesus Christ.
My friends, is that really how to grow closer to the real Jesus Christ of the Bible? Is that how Jesus Himself actually lived? Is that how His immediate apostles and disciples lived—those who were directly taught by Him and saw His example in person? Is that how you and I should live? Is that how anyone who is truly trying to imitate Christ should live?
Think! Jesus Christ gave one of His most powerful commands at the very start of His ministry: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). God’s word reveals His mind—the way He thinks and acts, and the way He wants us to act. God’s word—the Bible—is the “Instruction Manual” for mankind, revealing what true Christianity is all about!
Yet, down through the ages, there have been countless thousands who have cut themselves off from humanity as a whole—living in monasteries and nunneries, abasing and humiliating themselves in various ways—in an effort to “get closer to Christ.” Most of these people were obviously very sincere. But is sincerity enough? The basic, pivotal point is: should we let God Almighty tell us how to worship Him, or should we invent our own version of Christianity?
The Apostle Paul encountered many who added all kinds of “do’s and don’ts” to God’s commandments—in a sense inventing their own religion. Paul wrote, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3).
Have these well-intentioned Greek monks, and thousands of others like them, tried to “establish their own righteousness?” Consider that, throughout your Bible and in the example of Jesus Christ and His immediate apostles and followers, God clearly reveals that His servants are to “go into all the world” and “preach” the Truth—to give a warning and set an example that other people can see even while living in this sin-filled world (John 17:15–19).
Although Jesus went out into the wilderness to fast and to “seek God” at the beginning of His ministry, and although He did fast and pray throughout His life, the vast majority of His time was spent in constant contact with His fellow human beings—teaching them, healing them, serving them and setting a perfect example of the way of life the Eternal God wants us all to live. His disciples did the same. After they returned from an evangelistic tour—where they had been very busy helping and teaching hundreds of people—Jesus said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).
The biblical account shows they had been so busy helping and serving others—literally surrounded by others—that they had not had time to eat. So, they tried to depart to a deserted place to get their rest, as Jesus had instructed. Yet, when they came out of their boat, “multitudes saw them” and gathered around Jesus. What did He do? Did He go away from them, and insist on being “by Himself”? No! Rather, He was “moved with compassion for them” and He began to teach them about the way of God (vv. 33–34).
The apostles, too, were constantly busy preaching, teaching, helping, serving—and surrounding themselves with other human beings whom they could help and serve. They rarely kept themselves separate from other people, except for very brief periods of special prayer and fasting. Only when the Apostle John was put in a situation of exile, near the end of his life, did he stay apart from others consistently. Even as a civil prisoner in his own “hired house,” the Apostle Paul did not cut himself off from helping, serving and teaching others. Rather, “Paul… received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:30–31).
When asked about the “way to eternal life,” Jesus said, “if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). When asked, “Which ones?” Christ began to name a number of the commandments regarding how to love your neighbor—and He concluded, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 19).
How can you “love” your neighbors if you simply cut yourself off from them, and from all humanity—if you as a man forbid women to be around you, or as a woman forbid the presence of men and have practically no interaction with other human beings outside your own little group in a convent or a monastery? This obviously is “man-made” religion, which is totally contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Law of God! Many people do not like to hear these plain words. But it is the truth.
We need to remember Christ’s statement: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22–23).
Too many people, like these monks, simply assume that their religious leaders have taught them the whole truth. They sing a few songs and read from parts of the Bible, but they clearly do not study the whole Bible to understand God’s teachings about the entire way of life they should be living. They are happy to have the approval of those around them, to “blend in” with the people around them. This was the same problem many religious leaders of Jesus’ own day had: “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,” (John 12:43) and so they did not accept Christ and follow His teaching and His way of life.
Though most monks and nuns “hiding out” in monasteries may be sincere, they are giving up many opportunities to immerse themselves among their fellow human beings who may need help. When you consider Jesus’ statement that loving your neighbor is one of the two “great commandments,” you realize that these people are actually living contrary to the law and intent of God by their actions. Though their self-made religion may “look good” on the surface, their monastic way of life is absolutely not what Almighty God intended. In fact, it is against the whole way of life that God planned for humanity.
Why have these monks and nuns retreated to the cloister? Notice the Apostle Paul’s inspired warning: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). One of these “doctrines of demons” involves “forbidding to marry” (v. 3). Though God does call some Christians to remain unmarried, we need to understand that forced celibacy has caused millions of priests and nuns down through the centuries to toss and turn in deep frustration and anguish about their inability to express love for another human being in marriage.
May God help all of us to quit “imagining” what we think Jesus would want us to do! Rather, we must learn to study the inspired word of God, to find out what the real Jesus Christ of the Bible did do, and what He actually taught and believed. We need to believe what He believed, and live His truly inspired way of life. Then, as we do so, God will become more real to us, and His blessings will descend upon us in ways we may not now realize.
In this mixed up and deceived world, Christians must learn to “seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). Then, your Creator will “open your mind” to truly understand His word, and to begin to genuinely “know” Him and His purpose for your life. The Son of God stated, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).