What do you think of when you hear that word? A list of rules to follow? A bunch of monks doing weird chants? A priest uttering holy words while sprinkling blood over an altar? Whatever comes to your mind when you hear this word, it’s more than likely not a positive image. Religion. Ew, who needs that? How often as Christians do we hear “It’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship.”
But something worries me about our obsession with this phrase. I worry that in throwing “religion” away and falling in love with the relationship we lose something in the translation.
Love? “How silly, religion isn’t about love, it’s about fear”, you say. And God is love. You’re absolutely right. But here’s what happens. When someone preaches on getting rid of religion and getting into relationship, religion represents people doing all these things and following all these different rules to try and please God and maintain a right-standing with him. So in that context, relationship seems like a opposite of religion, right? Which would mean it’s not about rules or pleasing God, it’s about freedom and love and being yourself, yadda yadda. Which is great. Don’t get me wrong. God didn’t die for religion, he died to gain back his sons and daughters into relationship with him. He loves us. We can’t do a single thing to deserve his everlasting grace he so lovingly bestows on us. We can’t.But what I’m afraid often happens to Christians that hear the whole “relationship over religion” talk, is that they go extreme. The pendulum of Christianity swings all the way over from religion to relationship, and the rules get lost in the dust of “love”. Suddenly we’re fully immersed in the grace and love of Jesus, and bashing religion, and the next thing you know, we can’t even identify as a Christian, because that might make people think we’re identifying with that group of judgmental people who still read the Old Testament and don’t watch R-rated movies; pretty soon parts of the bible become irrelevant, we think other beliefs seem valid and good-hearted, and because we’re all about God loving us and just wanting a relationship we admit sins into our life that we say aren’t that big of a deal, because God doesn’t want us to follow a bunch of rules, he wants our love.
But that’s not love.
In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites 613 laws and 10 commandments to follow in order to maintain a right-standing with Him. Sacrifices were necessary to appease his wrath to punish sin. God created a religion for them to follow to show how much religion was impossible.
Religion is impossible.
Having a relationship with him is not.
Through the death of the perfect Son of God we gain a new life, washed clean by his blood and are granted a right-standing with the Father of Lights, and enter into a relationship with the Great I Am. But here’s the thing. Our God is a Father. He’s a holy parent. His love towards us is parental and his affection fatherly. Our relationship we have with him is not equal, as if he was our mate.
Mutual love does not beget mutual authority.
He still has authority over us, his creation; and we, being his creation, were created for Him. So a beautiful thing happens when we surrender our lives to our creator and enter into relationship with him. We go back to the beginning.
We re-enter the garden. The garden was God’s ideal life with us. We work, play, enjoy the things our Father created for us, and we walk with him in the cool of the evening, surrounded by love and truth, the evils of the world lost in the glory of conversing with the Maker of Lakes and Former of Rocks. When we come into relationship with Jesus Christ, we, like the prodigal son come running back to the father, and he brings us back into his arms, as if nothing had ever happened to separate us. But he’s still a Father. And does a father let his children play with knives and touch hot fires, and play near the cliffs? Of course not. He would be a terrible father if he did. It’s the same with our relationship with God. He gives us commandments to follow and puts fences up around things not because he wants us to obey an arbitrary list of rules to please him, but because as the most perfect of parents he desires us to be safe and enjoy life to the fullest; and being our creator he knows what is dangerous, what will harm us, and what will benefit us.
See, we tend to think of freedom as being able to do whatever we want and having the rights to follow through on all we wish. But that’s not freedom. That’s death. And it’s definitely not filled with love. The children that play in a fenced-in yard are more free to play and get crazy than children that play in a yard without a fence. The neighbor’s dog might bite them, the thorns on the side might hurt them if they get too close, etc. Following his commands is understanding just a bit of the depth of the love our Holy Father has for us.
And what would you say about a child that never obeyed his loving parents? He’s selfish, rebellious, and certainly doesn’t love his parents like he should. Let us not be like that child, thinking that we know best, ignoring the commands our Father has given us out of his love and wisdom. He knows our desires, he created them, he knows the temptations of the world, and he knows still that he has something even better for us. He loves us more than we could ever love him back. Let us show him our love by following his word and heeding his commands. Love is binding, it is not free. Love is costly, but is so worth it. His commands are not burdensome, his burden is light.
Cry out to him for help. He delights in taking our heavy loads upon his back. He cherishes when we attempt to please him by following his words. A child that knows he is loved desires to please his parents. There is nothing obligatory or pressuring about it. It is natural in a relationship to sacrifice things for the sake of the other, and to forsake things in order to please them.
So yes, Christianity IS about a relationship with God. But if you have a real relationship with him, a desire to follow his rules and commands to show your love will come naturally. He has done so much for us, how can we not do this for him?
It’s not religion, it’s love.
“For I find my delight in your commandments,
which I love.”
“The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”