RELATIONSHIP, NOT RELIGION
So now we’ve looked into what the Bible actually defines as a Christian, and we see how different that is from the world’s view. We saw that a Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ; therefore, his or her life is characterised by a desire to obey Him, glorify Him and to walk in His will. In short, the ultimate test of whether or not I am really a Christian, is if my greatest desire is to live for God, they way God wants. If it’s not, then it would be wise to ask if my claim of Christianity is valid (2 Cor. 13:5). Remember that the Bible never defines someone’s faith on the basis of the past, but always on the basis of today. In other words, what matters to God is where you stand now.
Let’s move on with The Basics. Another misconception about Christianity is that it is a religion. People here in the UK always ask me if I’m religious, and after a few bumps, I decided to always reply “no, I’m a Christian”. The response is usually the traditionally British “oh” (i.e. “this is too intense for me”) followed rapidly by a change of subject.
Allow me to explain: A religion, in my mind, is a system of beliefs and practises that serve the ultimate purpose of bringing close, or “connecting” the person to God. In other words, Religion is about doing things so that God will like you. Agree?
Well, the Gospel is completely different. Why? Because it’s about what God has done (and keeps doing) to bring people close to Him. That’s unheard of, and it also explains why the Gospel became so corrupted later on: It’s too hard for the human mind to believe that God could possibly love mankind so much as to pay their penalty Himself. We prefer the idea that we can get into God’s good graces by doing it ourselves – it’s human pride, and it is essentially the basis of all Religion: You earn God’s love, mercy and grace.
But that was never meant to be the Gospel. Look at what God said about it, some 600 years before Jesus came: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jer. 31:33). In other words, Christianity is something internal; it involves God’s law (His Will and His Word) being “written” on the hearts of those who believe.
Now here’s something interesting. Jeremiah continues with his prophecy: “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. (Jer. 31:34). “Know” is a word that refers to a deep, personal and intimate relationship – the kind of relationship that God wants to have with His children.
Paul wrote to the Roman Christians: For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Rom. 8:15) and again to those in Galatia: And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6). What does that tell us? Quite simply, that if we are indeed Christians, then not only are we called to a life of discipleship with Jesus, but also to a child-father relationship with God.
I cannot stress how important this is to get in our heads. Most people regard Christianity as nothing more than a religion – no different from Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism. Have you ever been told that “all religions are the same” or that “all religions lead to God”? Well, it’s wrong. Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship with the Holy God. Think about the Lord’s Prayer: How does it begin? “Our Father…” (Πάτερ ημών…). Father? Father? Isn’t God some remote, unapproachable, aloof being with little or no concern about my life? The Bible’s answer, my friends, is a hefty NO. God is as close to us as a father – and even closer. He has great interest in every little aspect of our lives and He is there to provide what a father provides: Protection, guidance, resources.
In Christ, God becomes our Father, because our sinful nature that stood before as a wall between us has been destroyed and we have been given a new one: 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). The life of the Christian is fueled by a continual relationship and fellowship with his Father in heaven – it’s not based on rites and rituals, or simple knowledge of the Bible (John 5:39-40), or even doing generic “Christian” things (going to Church, getting involved in ministries, being a “good” person). The Christian’s life has its roots in a deep, personal relationship with God, and this is then manifested in everyday situations.
There’s more. So I’m a Christian. What is God’s plan for me? We’ll talk about it more in a later entry, but here’s a good starter: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). Here Paul tells us that God’s plan for all His children, is to become like Jesus. Now, you and I know that something like that needs some kind of change – a transformation. We already saw that in Christ we are new creations – we have a new nature. But how do we get that nature to become more and more manifest in our everyday lives?
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).
Paul was talking about Moses who went into God’s presence and then had to cover his face with a veil when he addressed the people (Exodus 34:33-35). Why? Because being in God’s presence left his face with a bright light which they could not look at. In a way, it transformed him.
You see where this is going: If I want, as a Christian, to see myself transformed into Christ, the only way it will happen is by being in God’s presence where the Holy Spirit can work a transformation in me. Yes, it involves studying and meditating God’s Word to transform my thinking: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). Yes, it involves some discipline and me cleaning up my habits and fellowships: For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Gal. 6:8-9). But all this “edifying action” will become dry and pointless if it doesn’t draw on an everyday fellowship with God, Who invites us to come to Him:
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16)
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8a).
One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple (Psalm 27:4).
We’ll close here, and continue next time. But ask yourself this: If your Christianity seems pointless, dull and grey, how is your relationship and fellowship with your Heavenly Father? Do you come into His presence frequently? And when you do, do you you come seeking to glorify His name or to focus on yourself?
We’ll see more of this next time.