Rules, Religion, & Relationships

religion-sets-rules-jesus-sets-you-freeIt has recently occurred to me the vast majority of Christians are struggling under religious legalism even though we speak of living by grace. Many people have dismissed their belief system as merely a game of chance, there are things you do, and things you do not do. This means, no cursing, no stealing, no lying, and heaven forbid, no sexually immorality. However, what is the point of all this? It seems to be the common answer for most is, “I am a Christian, so I just don’t do those things.” Okay, but what exactly does that mean? Are we really only trying to follow a set of rules, all the while hoping God will reward our good behavior and if we are lucky overlook, even excuse or altogether dismiss our fleshly driven mistakes?

It is true there is an element in Christianity of people being accountable regarding how they live, but it is not men telling people how to live. It is God telling people how to get right with Him. Christianity is not a religion or a simple system of rules full of dos and don’ts or any combination of the two. Too often, we define Christianity by a list of arbitrary do’s and don’ts, decreasing our relationship with God through Jesus to nothing more but an exercise in rule keeping. Our God is so much larger than that, in fact He is infinite thus will not fit in any box man may try to force Him in. Christianity is first, foremost, and above all news, good news, The Gospel to be very specific.

Picture for a moment if you will being born into a major war, not really understanding or knowing anything different because you were born into captivity. You are taken at birth never having even met your birth parents. One day you hear helicopters in the distance, suddenly a lot of noise, commotion as never before, the rescue teams have landed. The sound is getting closer as the soldiers are destroying anyone and everything in their path. Finally, they make their way through the gates and break down the doors to where you are located. You look up and see a five star general who walks in and says you are free to go. Having lived your entire life, born in captivity as a prisoner, you are now set free. Free, what does this all mean, you thought you were free, wait, who are the people waiting for you when the gates open, there they stand on the other side, your parents, and the kind of affection given you  in that moment is immeasurable.

That my friend is Christianity in a nutshell, its news, good news, that God sent His best rescue team into the world, in the person of Jesus Christ our Five Star General, and at great cost to Himself; he conquered our enemies, opened the gates of the camp, and welcomed us home. The true essence of Christianity is faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ through his life, death, and resurrection. This is not something we have done on our own, but have received as a gift from God because of our inability to pay our own debt Ephesians 2:1-5.

So let us return to the opening hypothetical dialogue. Instead of responding to the question why a Christian “follows the rules” or is a “moral” person with the textbook answer “because I am a Christian”.  A more appropriate response could be “because I have faith and hope in the redeeming work of Jesus for my life and the whole of creation, in response to his love for me, I love him in return through obedience to what he has called me to through his word.” This response will elicit a much more meaningful conversation, and the opportunity to share the Gospel with someone new.

If following rules is not going to bring our salvation or somehow win God’s favor, then why in the world would there be rules to follow in the first place? It is simple; it is out of a love for God that Christians remain obedient to his commands. This means that we do not steal our neighbors property not because it is a “rule” but out of love for our neighbor and God (Matthew 22:37-39). This principle applies on all levels. Christianity is not a game of rules to follow but a faith in Jesus and an active response to what he has done on our behalf. It seems that the majority of Christians see their Faith as a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” because “the Bible says not to.” Again, these answers seem to be a bit problematic. Christianity is not moralism; it is not about doing the right things and avoiding the bad things.

Make no mistake. We stand right before God not because of our ability to keep an exhaustive list of rules, but on the rock-solid reality of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. His grace is super-abundant it is more than enough. When we place our faith in Him, His grace “covers” us, and His righteousness becomes our own. Religion is a system of beliefs or a code of moral conduct that judges qualifies or disqualifies a person based on their adherence and obedience to those codes, rules, laws, traditions, or the performance of required acts. This is a very important distinction, and it is core to what I believe, so I would like to try to clarify what I mean.  Here is the way I am defining religion. When you practice religion, you reduce your relationship with God a mathematical formula.  Do this, then do this, do not do that, and voilà. . You are right in the eyes of God.  This is TOTALLY missing the point.  God wants so much more.  He wants to have a real relationship with you.  He wants to show his love for you and He wants you to love Him.

This is the difference between religion and true Christianity.  There is no checklist or list of rules that you must follow it is ALL about your relationships, vertical and horizontal (Mark 12:30-31).   There are no rhetoric or rituals that must be practiced or traditions of man to adhere.  Believe that Jesus Christ came to earth and died for your sins, accept His FREE GIFT, let God help you to love Him and love others.  That is it!  It is so simple it sounds stupid, and it would be if there were no real power here.  However, when you do this, the relationship with God becomes very REAL and the power to change your life is there!  Religion is empty.  However, in Christ there is power.

So tell me again why as Christian you are obedient to the commandments of the Bible, is it because you want to follow some rules, or is it because you really love our God and want to be more like him?

God’s Peace

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