Religion Vs. Relationship

There is a saying, often casually repeated, of having a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus. While such is what the second Person of the Godhead desires, there is too frequently little evidence of such reflected in a person’s life. To the contrary, one is often reminded of Jesus speaking to Pharisees and saying, “This people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). It would appear what the Pharisees displayed for the most part can best be described as religious behavior rather than relationship with God whom they professed to worship and represent. Today as well, many in leadership who presume to be spokesmen for God live self-indulgently if not blatantly sinful lives causing their ministries to crash and burn when exposed.

The story of creation provides insight to the purpose of man’s existence from a perspective of heaven. We read the now familiar words, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Here we are told a simple yet profound intention of our Creator to see Himself reflected in the lives of those He creates. Such always has been the primary reason for mankind to have been brought into existence. God desires for His likeness to be seen in the same characteristics which profiled the life of His Son Jesus such as love, mercy and forgiveness. Yet someone attending the average church in America might well gain a radically different perception by observing the behavior of some who identify themselves as members of any given congregation of believers.

A second basic purpose for man’s existence is that of fellowship with the Creator. We are told of God’s walking in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day to visit with Adam and Eve. Story after story in the OT relates personal interaction between God and His children, and such continued to resonate in the gospels with the many parables and teachings that focused on the Good Shepherd and His sheep. And emphasis on fellowship through time in prayer remains a standard for us. “For I am the LORD; I change not” (Malachi 3:6). When God determined to make a new covenant after the old had been broken, He said people would no longer find it necessary to say, “Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me” (Jeremiah 31:34), indicating a personal relationship would exist.

A third basic purpose for man’s existence is for the worship of God. Worship is implied in bringing offerings to God as with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). And we see that God is quite particular concerning offering that is acceptable as He did not have “respect” for that brought by Cain. And not all brought today are acceptable as acts of worship. In one case we are told to leave our offering at the altar and reconcile with someone before our act of worship becomes acceptable. And Paul tells that our reasonable act of worship is to be nothing less than the offering of our lives as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

As I look back, it is apparent that my own life was deeply root in religion, yet desperately lacking in relationship with God. In childhood, I was given a system of religious beliefs and was told it was my responsibility to obey the tenets of belief. The very idea of relationship, let alone being crucified with Christ so that He might live within me by His Spirit, was never mentioned by parents who were not taught such in their Lutheran tradition. I then moved into an even more ritualistic Episcopalian setting and was first married in a Roman Catholic church filled with statues and candles where tradition had long replaced any idea of the Word of God or personal relationship being emphasized. All expected gestures were carried out with precision as best possible during those years of spiritual wandering. In lack of what Jesus calls being “born again” (John 3:3), my only frame of reference was being told that what I was doing was ‘religious.’

I now easily recognize how the great deceiver Satan counterfeits what Jesus refers to as the worship of God “in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him” (John 4:23). And I realize there are untold millions in the same place I found myself for the first half century of my life. It causes me to grieve deeply as it applies to many fine people including members of my family. For having a relationship  with Christ Jesus is ever so shockingly different that what I was taught was genuine. Not being seminary or bible school trained, I cannot express this difference in elegant theological terms used by many with such training. But I do recognize that my life had not reflected the image of God, that I had not been a seeker of intimacy with Christ, and had not been consumed with allowing God to help transform me into an acceptable sacrifice as an act of worship.

Allow me to use an example to illustrate the nature of relationship with Jesus under the new covenant. In the past, I had a favoritism for golf. Striving to bring my handicap down, I took lessons from an excellent coach who patiently explained fine points of the game which I practiced diligently. But despite my efforts, I fell short of significantly improving my scores. An inborn potential seemed lacking. Eventually I gave up the game. And now I realize there was but one way I could have played with the skill and performance of my instructor. That would have been for the instructor to have placed himself inside of me so that he could play through my physical body.

In principle, such is what takes place in Christian life where there is genuine relationship. The Son of God was manifested in human likeness not only to be an atoning sacrifice for sins of the world so people could go to heaven. Such a limited focus of gospel preaching and teaching reveals lack of appreciation for truth in the Word of God. Jesus came that we might have life: “The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In this passage are two exceedingly important reasons for the Son of God having manifested, both of which relate to having a personal relationship with Christ Jesus.

The first reason is stated by the apostle John: “He that commits sin is of the devil. for the devil sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Since the Fall of man, all receive a spiritual inheritance which does not represent the ways of God. Sin entered the world (Romans 5:112) and scripture attests all sin and fall short of God’s demands. As such there need of atonement (covering over) so man born spiritually dead might be “born again” and reconciled with the Father. This took place at Calvary so those coming to faith in Christ have their sin debt paid and are set free from Satan’s power (Colossians 1:13).

Another aspect of Jesus’ manifesting in human flesh was that He might destroy the works of the devil. This involved not only paying a ransom for sin debt but healing the sick and setting free the oppressed by casting out evil spirits. The disciples were sent to participate in this mission of Jesus and lessons on this website relate to a mandate for believers to continue this work in the name of Jesus. The Father has no need for us in heaven. He has need for those empowered by the Spirit on earth to advance the kingdom of heaven against an enemy who relentlessly seeks to steal, kill and destroy in an endless variety of ways.

The second important reason for the Son of God having manifested was so that we might have an abundant life. The  Greek zoe translated “life” in this passage is not life full of material blessings and pleasures emphasized by false apostles of whom Jesus warns fourteen times in the gospels.. Zoe  translated as “life” comes from Greek which concerns spiritual life or life of the immortal soul. But life has been distorted to imply material riches and worldly comforts as heralded by teachers of prosperity who are workers of iniquity posing as ministers of righteousness. They are part of a kingdom ruled by Satan who himself masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

In speaking of a new covenant, the LORD tells Jeremiah, “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: …I will put My law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts: and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest”  (31:33,34). Under the new covenant, God gives to each who knows His Son a new heart and new nature so they will seek to please God and obey the teachings of Jesus. This takes place in response to the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the heart of every true believer.

We find this explained further by God speaking to Ezekiel about the new covenant: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36: 26,27). Here we find described a new covenant Jesus came to bring through His birth, death, resurrection, and return to His Father. It is in perfect harmony with the words of Paul who explains a “mystery” hidden from man’s eyes for generations:

“Even the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest [known] to the saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:26,27

The good news of the gospel is distorted if emphasis is solely placed (as often done) on gaining access to heaven because sins are forgiven. Satan has succeeded in deflecting what scripture makes exceedingly clear. Paul describes two laws at work in the members of his body…a law of sin under the direction of Satan and the law of God (see both Romans and Galatians for scripture on this subject). To be a believer in Christ involves entering conflict between two kingdoms by virtue of being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ who comes into conflict with a sinful nature. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary [that is, in opposition to] the one to the other” (Galatians 5:17). Anyone not aware of this conflict is living on another planet spiritually speaking.

In entering into relationship with Christ Jesus, one is to participate in what Jesus refers to as advancing the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 11:12). See lessons on the kingdom of heaven on this website in this regard. Sacrifice, persecution, hatred by the world, and rejection not only by established religion but at times even by members of one’s family is inevitable when one is used by God to advance His kingdom. “For to you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). But many who claim a personal relationship with Christ have little understanding of what true relationship involves, let alone being a soldier of Christ in battle with forces of evil in heavenly realms as described in Ephesians 6:12.

In closing, Jesus has something to say which needs to be heeded by those lukewarm in faith who tend to be satisfied with living in a middle ground between Egypt (the world) and the promised land (being sold-out for Jesus). Jesus finds Himself in a crowded house and told His mother and other members of His immediate family are outside seeking to speak to Him. And Jesus says to those surrounding Him in the house the following as to personal relationship and becoming eternal members of His family:

“Who is My mother? And who are My brethren?” And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples and said, “Behold my mother and My brethren: For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” Matthew 12:48-50

A person is in relationship with the Son of God when led by His indwelling Spirit, not by rules that can put God behind one’s back. “For as many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Romans 8:14). Jesus the Good Shepherd says the following of those who are truly His sheep (i.e., in personal relationship): “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). So let me ask a question. Do you feel you have religion or a relationship with Christ? Another way of asking the same question is, “Do you hear the voice of Jesus speaking to your spiritual ears and do you obediently follow what He says with all your heart?”



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