Religion and Life Series
This might seem like a strange title, “The Lowest Common Denominator,” especially for an article on the Christian faith, but it is not without purpose. This idiom is used differently in diverse subjects. It originated in mathematics as “the lowest common multiple of the denominators of several fractions.” Ooh, that sounds complicated, but it is not so difficult. It is not important here to learn its mathematics, but for the sake of the inquisitive minds, I will give a brief example of its application. For example, what do the fractions 2/9 and ¾ have in common? How do you get them to agree with one another? If they had a common denominator, then they could relate to one another and work together. Now, if you wish to jog your memory, you can follow the following example, otherwise just pass on to the next paragraph which explains the use of the phrase in politics.
Let’s say we have two fractions: 2/9 and 3/4. The multiples of denominator 9 are: 9, 18, 27, 36, 45…), and the multiples of 4 are 4, 8, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40,…)
Thus the lowest common denominator will be 36, common to both fractions, and the fractions could become 8/36 and 27/36, (which equal 2/9 and ¾). But now the two fractions have something in common, the lowest common denominator 36.
In politics, the phrase Lowest (or Least) Common Denominator (LCD), has been adapted to mean to deliberately state an opinion so that it will appeal to the largest number of people. For instance, the political platforms of each major USA party, Democrats and Republicans, are intentionally and purposely reduced down and simplified to attract the largest number of voters. They do not wish to reveal their true philosophical or theoretical basis, but only to offer some practical barebones “blanket statements”—you know, statements that attempt to cover all situations (“like a blanket”) but is actually not true in all situations. They fear that in providing too much detail they may turn away a segment of the population. So, their respective platform policies are like the tip of an iceberg with most of the truth lying beneath the surface. If people knew the whole truth, their position in politics may (or probably will) change.
Catch phrases are used, like “We stand for the working man,” “We need less government interference in our lives,” “abortion rights,” and “the right to bear arms (guns)” are used by the respective parties. These are only fragments of the truth masking what lies beneath the façade of these slogans. But with accusation hurled at each party, they attract the attention of potential voters.
God forbid that our focus here should lie with mathematics or politics or the use of the idiom “Lowest Common Denominator” with any other cultural subject. The full intent of the article is not to talk about social issues, or science applications, but to explain what the concept of the Lowest Common Denominator means to Christianity. We must explain what happens when our faith is reduced to the lowest most common practices, or is “simplified” to attract the greatest number of believers. The idiom LCD is a useful tool in mathematics and politics, but it has devastating consequences in faith; for it reduces Christianity to a religious belief system. The Lowest Common Denominator of the Christian faith is… religion.
That is a hard statement, and difficult for many to receive. There must be consistent Biblical verifications that reveal the fundamental truth, that “Christianity is not a religion but a living relationship with God in Christ.” And the difference between the two is, in reality, as far the east is from the west. When Christianity is reduced to the LCD of faith it becomes a religion. The best way for me to describe religion is that religion is a large box which contains all one needs to “practice” their faith—basically, the things to obey and to do. The box holds a holy book, laws and commandments, formal services, rituals, holy days, sacrifices, and so on. And, it offers a seemingly moral, disciplined, and principled lifestyle.
But, religion falls far, far, short of the expectations of Christ when He uttered, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Jn. 10.10 The principle of spiritual life is distinct from religious life. The life of which Jesus spoke is outside the bounds of religion, it is brought about by an inward regeneration and a spiritual transformation that becomes… spontaneous in nature. This life can only be simulated by religion, and appear only as shadows of its true reality.
To understand this, let us look into scripture, first laying a foundation then building upon it with verifiable facts and examples.
Man is a Triune Being
The apostle Paul makes a statement about his pursuit towards God’s highest purpose for his life when he writes, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3.14 He intentionally uses the term upward call; other translations use the term heavenly calling or things above. This word “upward” suggests something spiritual, or something heavenly in nature, as opposed to something worldly or natural; it suggests something invisible or intangible as distinct from religious practices…things you obey, say, and do. Paul further cautions about having the proper spiritual mindset when he writes,
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Rm. 8.5-6
A spiritual mindset is fundamental to Christianity. However, there is a tendency in man to gravitate downward into his most basic senses and emotions and logical thinking, which is actually being “carnal” or “worldly minded.” These are things religion feeds upon. Always, inevitably, the tendency in man is downward in the natural rather than upward in the spirit. This downward tendency is like gravity, it is always pulling man downward and he must struggle, even fight and use large amounts of energy to rise above it. To relax or do nothing, gravity always wins. For a rocket to take off and break the gravitational pull of the earth takes a tremendous amount of energy. But, it can do it. Unless extreme caution is made, all that is spiritual in our faith immediately begins to gravitate downward to a Lowest Common Denominator form of religious practice. Please allow me to explain more fully.
We must first understand that man resembles the likeness to God in the fact that he too is a triune being. God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though three persons, is but one God. Man who is body, spirit, and soul is one being. (1 Thes. 5.23) Though there are these three individual elements of man, yet he is one in being. Man is only whole by possessing body, spirit and soul, otherwise, as in death of body, he is considered naked, or incomplete. Paul refers to our body as our earthly house or tent,
“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent (body), is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” 2 Cor. 5.1-5
A guarantee? A guarantee of what? In order to have the fullness of eternal life, there comes the absolute necessity for the resurrection of the body at the return of Christ, because in death this mortal body decays into the earth. Man is body, spirit, and soul now, and he will eternally be body, spirit, and soul in the age to come. The believer will be fittingly suited for the new heaven and the new earth only first by regeneration of his spirit and secondly the resurrection of the body. As it is written,
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.’” 1 Cor. 15.42-45
“And as we have borne the image of the man of dust (Adam), we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man (Christ).” 1 Cor. 15.49
Dear reader (or listener) this is glory—even as glory is the manifestation of heavenly or Godly attributes, this is the glory of the manifested sons of God! But for now we must wait for this eventual glory in anxious anticipation. This is our hope. This, today, is the current situation with the body, and with the promise for its resurrection. But for now, in the present, we are in this “corruptible” body, fully influenced by its weaknesses, its desires, and its strengths. As you are aware, the body is susceptible to sin and to worldly influences which act as continuous gravity pulling man lower, downward into his lowest common denominator—even the believer who is professing Christ. Realizing this condition, Paul agonizingly cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Rm. 7.24
However, he writes elsewhere, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” 2 Cor. 4.16 This renewing of the inward man is actually the pressing upward to the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus—it is an inward renewal, a transformation of our soul. If I relax, the gravity of religion will pull me downward into routine, into tradition, and into formalism… which all try to tame this old man of self to no avail. If however, I press upward, I am earnestly pursuing the spiritual and am being renewed from within which refers to God working and ever transforming the inward man. Just what is this inward man, and how is it being renewed? To answer this question we must further understand the realm of spirit and the soul.
The Soul and the Spirit
The soul of man is who you really are—it is the seat of your conscious being, the seat of your character, your understanding, and thoughts. Your soul is in tune with the physical world through your body; the body being the seat or realm of your senses—which enables one to see, hear, touch, smell and taste; and the body is also the realm of your emotions—which enables one to have “feelings” about things: you like certain things and dislike other things, you like certain people and foods and dislike others, etc. And so we understand that our soul is like the central processor of a computer in that it can only process data that is fed into it, like the body feeding information to the soul. Now standing alone, this duo of body and soul is Biblically referred to as the carnal man, or the man of the flesh (which is essentially body + soul.)
However, there is another part of man, the spirit, which is the intangible, invisible, immaterial part that is in tune with the spiritual realm—the spiritual domain of both the Kingdom of God and the realm of satanic influences, the kingdom of darkness. I know of no third realm. The dilemma is, that in the natural man the spirit, though alive and aware to the spiritual environment, is separated (or dead to) God. It is written,
“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive (spiritually) with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved!” Eph. 2.4-5
Thus, the number one and most important decision of our lives, is to have our spirits regenerated; in which we become children of God, being born of His Spirit, and are thereby found in union (oneness) with the very Spirit of Christ. Life is to have our spirits in communion and in relationship, with the Spirit of Christ.
Without regeneration, there is no going forward, or pressing upward, with things of God; man falls victim solely to the wiles of the devil and the temporal and physical enticements of the world. Knowing this, Paul writes,
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph. 4.17-24
So now, do you understand that this “inward man”, this new man, is the one that is being renewed day by day? This inward man is spiritual! It is the union of the believer’s renewed spirit with the Spirit of Christ. Again, it is spiritual, so that it cannot be seen nor touched, or heard, or smelled or tasted. It cannot be acted out as in religious practices of rituals and memorials, of observances of holy days and special services. All of those religious practices are but an outward shadow or copy of this inward spiritual reality. It is invisible and intangible yet is real to our inward man; it is a spiritual reality to rival the natural reality of the world in which we live. One can now say, “I know that I know, no one in heaven or earth or under the earth can tell me differently. I am what I am in Christ; I am in the Kingdom of God, in which my new reality and my walk of life proceeds upward in faith.” We must become spiritually minded.
Let’s begin with a true blanket statement regarding faith. Biblical faith is not just belief in God. It is written, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” Jam 2.19 Nor is Biblical faith becoming a member of a church, or a denomination, or a cult that practices some form of religion. For the heart of religion is the practice and keeping of laws to control behavior, of rituals to perform and experience, of sacrifices to offer to appease the conscience, and of holy days to observe. These are all tangible and visible elements, which are not really of faith but of living a prescribed lifestyle. If you can see it and touch it, it is no longer of faith. To reiterate, religion puts one into a “believe in God” box with so-called spiritual practices that are not really spiritual but are, in all reality, the natural man wanting something to believe in and to act out a belief. Religion occupies a pseudo-faith.
This may all seem like hard words, but understanding true faith is liberating, it is freedom, it is becoming alive in Christ. So let us now turn to the Bible to truly understand the meaning of faith. Following are three different translations of Hebrews 11.1:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” NKJ
“Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” NASB
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” NIV
This short verse presents the true argument for faith. It is imperative to understand these two essential elements of faith, 1) certainty of an invisible reality and 2) the assurance of things hoped for (anticipated). This means that faith is 100% spiritual. Following are some spiritual realities the believer is to have confidence in and to anticipate NOW, in this life:
- “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jn. 1.12-13
- “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5.17
- “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” 1 Jn. 4.15
- “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” 1 Cor. 6.19
- “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1.27
- “God… raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2.6
- “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant…” Heb. 12.22-24
- “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal 2.19-20
- “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Rm. 6.3-4
- “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.” Col. 3.1
These are but a small sampling of scriptures pinpointing the spiritual targets of our faith. They are all spiritual, and it is the spiritual that works in us, and not as religion presupposes to work upon us. The work of God is from the inside out; religion works from the outside in. These are intrinsic truths, not something that has to be learned and conformed to in outward obedience and in pledges.
Finally, please set your minds to understand the reality of the following two scriptures that are closely related to one another:
“…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure;” Phil. 2.13 and
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Jn. 7.38
This highlights the grace of God. It removes the “self” from the efforts of conforming to an outward law or covenant with God, and, by faith, we find our rest in Christ. It removes any boasting of man to have attained anything of spiritual value through his own religious efforts. The result of His inward workings is the outflow of life.
We began this discussion with the Lowest Common Denominator—not focusing upon the mathematical model or the political, but upon the Christian faith. If man fails to understand the spiritual nature of Christianity, or if he, or she, is deceived or is simply lazy, they will inevitably succumb to the Lowest Common Denominator of religion—all they have to do is follow its mandates and supposedly find their peace with God. Their “faith” is then simplified and is neatly packaged up for them. Religion pacifies the conscience and gives the practitioner a sense peace in fulfilling ones duties and obligations. It even offers a glimmer of hope for eternal life.
But, as it is written, “For Christ is the end of the law (religion) for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Rm. 10.4 Christ, the person of Jesus Christ, is Himself the very essence of the Christian faith, …not by offering a believer a new religion, but by offering Himself as a sacrifice and by promising the believer to receive the transforming indwelling Holy Spirit, His own very spirit. We will end this chapter with a quote from Jesus to the Samaritan women who asked which religion was correct, the religion of her fathers or the religion of the Jew. He said that either the religion of the Samaritan or the Jew will suffice,
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jn. 4.23-24