Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Relationship vs. Religion (Part 3)

Hello again. Welcome back to Part 3 of this amazing post regarding the difference in practicing religion and having a relationship with Jesus.  If you have not read parts 1&2 please do, as each section builds on the next.  I call this post amazing not as a boast but because it is ministering to me as a reminder of what an awesome God I serve, how much He loves me, and how badly I need Him, even as I write this.

The closing statement in part 2 is that, according to John 1:12, if you believe in the name of Jesus you are then considered children of God.  We must clarify however, that to believe is not merely intellectual ascent.  The bible says that even the demons believe and tremble at the name of Jesus(James 2:19).  Lordship is the issue here.  If you have placed your faith in Christ then you have become one of His disciples.  Much is required of Christ's disciples.  Jesus said of His disciples in John 15:16"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last."    Jesus makes it clear in John 14 and 15 and the bible makes it clear all through the New Testament that to love God and to say you have faith in God, will be represented by repentance from sin and a selfless submission to His Lordship.  Your salvation and relationship with the Father will be evidenced by the fruit of obedience to His word.  Discipleship will cost you and will be evidenced by self-sacrificial action and a love for God above all others (James 2:14-26, Luke 14:25-23).  It is put most appropriately I think, considering the title of this post, by James.  James 1:19-27 which ends with this verse, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world".

I would like to ensure that I am clear. First, that you cannot earn salvation.  Christ's death on the cross is what saves you.  The obedience I speak of is the fruit of your relationship not the root. Second, the sacrificial requirements of salvation and lordship when properly understood and genuinely experienced are not regrettable sacrifices.  When you understand the price that Christ paid for your sins, your desire to grow in these things will not be accompanied by a sense of regret for things lost but by a joy for things gained.  Namely, freedom from eternal death and a freedom from bondage to sin, into eternal life that begins at the point of justification. While faith toward obedience in all things builds gradually, your desire to grow in obedience should begin immediately.  This is not something you have to conjure up.  Your relationship will create a driving desire to repent from sin that will create separation between you and your Heavenly Father. It will also create a driving desire to obey, not based on religious obligation but motivated by love for your Heavenly Father.

So I am going to now presume that I am speaking to someone who has believed on Christ and is interested in pleasing the Father through obedience.  This is why you need relationship.  You must always remember that you have no power in and of yourself to satisfy God's expectations.  Salvation is a lifelong process.  It begins with justification in which you are made right before God. This, in essence, happens only because at the cross, God placed your sins on Jesus and at the point of justification places Christ's righteousness on you.  At this point you will go to heaven. The Salvation process continues with sanctification in which you are transformed from glory to glory by power made effective through prayer and the reading of His word(2 Corinthians 3:18).  This is evidenced by a perseverance in obedience and faith until you are glorified.  It ends with glorification in which you end your journey on earth and begin the rest of eternity in heaven with Jesus enjoying a glorified body and a nature that is no longer inclined toward sin.

I have mentioned repentance several times.  Just in case someone is not familiar with that word,  repentance means in it's most raw definition, "to turn form your sins".  A more accurate application of that definition is "to turn and run from your sins and move in hot pursuit toward God".  This is key.  We must not try to live with one foot in the world and one foot in heaven.  God not only demands but, intimately desires our whole heart.

 In Matthew 19:26 Jesus said, "With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible".  In John 14:16 Jesus promises that after he leaves He will send another comforter who will be with us always.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, just before he ascends to heaven, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth".   

So you see, God in this beautiful relationship in which He is Father, Savior, and Lord has sent His Spirit to empower us to do all that he asks.  In multiple letters from the Apostle Paul, he instructs the church to "live a life worthy of the gospel."  He makes clear how he understands that will happen in Philippians 2:12-13 in which he says, "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."  You work hard outwardly as Christ is working through the Holy Spirit inwardly to accomplish the purposes for which you were created.  2 Peter 1:3-4 states that, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire".   2 Peter 1:5-8 goes on to state how this works itself out in our actions.  These are two passages of scripture, among many, that very aptly sum up what God has done and how it should be evidenced in our lives.  They would be well worth memorizing.

Hopefully we have established why it is important to understand the difference in religion and relationship.  Religion, not as an organization, but when it teaches a works based righteousness, gets you nowhere.  It cannot justify you before God and you cannot please God with it.  It is either built on a lie, requires too much of the wrong things or requires too little of the right things.  Relationship with your Heavenly Father is a glorious eternal proposition that requires everything of you and provides everything necessary to accomplish what is required. 

So as Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 of all believers, "You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let  your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." In Matthew 28:18-20, known as the Great Commission, Jesus gives his number one command and purpose for His making of His twelve disciples as well as every disciple after that.  He says, "All authority on Heaven and Earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold I am with you, even to the end of the age".

God would simply take us away to heaven at the point of justification if he did not intend for us to grow in the likeness of Christ here on Earth(Ephesians 4:1-16). If the Holy Spirit has confirmed in your spirit that you are a child of God (Romans 8:14-16) then you are also a disciple of Christ and commanded to be a disciple maker.  The praise of the Father and the exalting of the name of Jesus is the ultimate purpose for our existence.  As one great American pastor John Piper says, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him".  So let us be satisfied in the glorifying of our Heavenly Father and the exaltation of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Let us express our love for Him and satisfaction in Him, by delighting ourselves in the Lord and and striving to obey His commands by the power of His grace.  Let us revel in the relationship that we have with Almighty God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who loves us so much.

In Jesus name,


Love in Christ,


Friday, May 3, 2013

Relationship vs. Religion (Part 2)

Welcome back!  If you have not read Part one of this I hope you will because this second part is intended to be contrasted against parts of it and a continuation of other parts.  This will be part two of what has become a three part post in order to cover everything and still maintain a respectable length.

The only form of Christianity that is true to the bible is one that stems from a relationship with Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Trinity are most clearly depicted in the gospel of Matthew 3:16-17 at the baptism of Jesus.  To my knowledge, at this point there is not a scripture that outright says on it's own that the trinity is God in three persons however, a study on the relationship between these three persons biblically, makes it clear that it is so.  I hope to do such a study as a blog post at some point.

For now just know that there is a God whom, in His holiness, must hate sin and sinners because they are rebellious against Him (Psalm 5:4-6).  He must destroy them to be just.  Sin stands in direct opposition to all that God is and we are guilty of it.  Yet this God is also a Heavenly Father who chose to send His son to die and take on our punishment, representing all of our sin from beginning to end. Jesus is the satisfaction of God's necessary wrath toward sin and sinners. After God's Son died, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us and lead us into all righteousness through faith in Jesus.    If the first statement made you mad then the second should make you glad.

This God who spoke creation into being wants a relationship with you.  Let me be clear, God is all sufficient.  He does not need us in the same way that we need each other.  He is able to be perfectly satisfied within Himself.  He wants a relationship with you because He loves you.  We were all created for one purpose, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  We are to reflect His glory.  We were created in His image, not out of any need that He had, but for His benefit that we would glorify Him. Yet it was for our benefit as well, that we might know Him and enjoy His creation.(Genesis 1:26-31) In order for the relationship to be fully appreciated we need some background, so stay with me.  Let's break down the synopsis from the previous paragraph and take a quick journey through the bible regarding our sin and God's grace to save us from that sin.

Creation had perfect communion with God until the day that mankind broke covenant with God. We placed our importance, and lust for knowledge and power, over obedience to God.  We, in our rebellion, allowed sin into the world forever fracturing the perfect and "very good" world that God had created.  From that moment on we have been slaves to sin, separated from perfect communion with God, and deserving of His wrath toward our sin. (Genesis 3)  Coinciding with our separation from God was the beginnings of imperfection in creation.  Creation began to grown in the form of mankind's acts of evil toward one another, natural disasters, death, disease, suffering etc.  Every evil and imperfect thing that happens in this world is a result of sin.  We, and this world, are broken.

The only way to have our sins forgiven was to kill a lamb and sacrifice it before God on an altar as an atonement or payment for them.  This is how it was done for hundreds of years.  But it was not enough.  You see, God is perfectly just and infinitely holy.  In order for His wrath to be satisfied, His justice upheld, and his glory to be made known eternally, a greater price needed to be paid. In order for mankind to have access to eternity with Him beyond the grave, someone had to take their place in receiving God's judgement on sin.
You might ask, "What about those who died before Christ came?"  Good question.  That is answered by Romans 3:21-25.  The primary verse being vs.25 which states, that God showed forth His righteousness in His divine forbearance by passing over the previous sins of the Old Testament saints.

Enter Jesus.  Most aptly and infamously stated in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life."   Our Creators' greatest act of love for His creation is that, because He knew we would never be able to live the perfect sinless life that He requires, He sent His Son to do it for us.  Jesus, God's Word made flesh (John 1:14), came to earth, lived sinlessly, taught and served selflessly, and then died graciously. (Romans 5:8) This salvation was provided, based in no part on our own merit.  It was bought for us by Christ's blood on the cross and was planned and made possible by God's grace to lead us to a holy life before time began. (2 Timothy 1:9)(Ephesians 2:8-9)

Many think that His gruesome beatings and death on the cross were the great price that He paid. Of course Jesus suffered physically.  I in no way want to minimize that.  The bible references the physical suffering of Jesu in a number of different places.  Most notably, Isaiah 53.  As I mentioned before, Christ's blood shed on the cross is directly associated with the atonement for our sins.  It is an important feature to stand in awe and reverence of.  The challenge comes in that, when it is discussed, many times, His physical suffering is the focal point of what Christ did for us on that cross. However, that is not it.  Many martyrs have suffered just as horrendously in the flesh as Jesus did on the day of His death.  Their death however, did not pay the price for our sins.  

What justifies us before God is not the physical, but the spiritual suffering that Jesus experienced.  He drank the cup that He knew would be so agonizing to drink that He asked the Father if it could pass from Him. (Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42)  This cup contained God's wrath toward every sin and consequently every sinner from creation to Christ's return. (Jeremiah 25:15; Revelation 14:10)  Many suffered God's wrath in partial measure in the old covenant because of their disobedience and many will again suffer God's wrath, in full measure, at the end of days.  However, the most wonderful news is that Jesus's righteousness has been placed on  those who have believed in him.  In return, the sin of those whom believe, was placed on Christ and God's wrath poured out on it.  Jesus drank the full cup of God's fury towards our sins.  He took the punishment and became the propitiation or payment for our sin toward Almighty God that satisfied His wrath.  That is how justification comes about.  Those who believe this and, by His grace, work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phillipians 2:12-13), following Jesus as both Lord and Savior, they will inherit eternal life.

All of this is necessary to understand in order to appreciate a relationship with Almighty God.  You will not fully appreciate the sacrifice paid unless you understand your guilt before a Holy God.  But, when God draws your heart (John 6:44).  When you realize that you are not your own but that you were bought with a price and that the very Spirit of God lives within you, (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) you no longer desire to please your sinful nature.  Your desires for the things of this world will drift away and be replaced by a hunger to please your Heavenly Father.  Don't misunderstand, you will still sin however, you will be running from sin rather than toward it.  John 1:12-13 states, "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of  natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God".
If you have believed on Him as Lord and Savior, you are a child of God. 

Please continue with me as I will soon be posting part 3 of this incredible journey into what it means to have relationship with God as His child and to be enabled to serve him faithfully by His grace.  I have greatly enjoyed the journey that I am on as I write this and I hope that you are being fed as well. Whether you are learning for the first time or are being reminded afresh of who God is and what He has done for us, to meditate on His word, think on who He is, and show our love for Him through our obedience is the greatest privilege that we have. See ya soon.

Love in Christ,


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Religion vs. Relationship (Part 1)

Many people balk at the idea of religion.  They don't like it's connotation because it is the only way that they are familiar with the functionality of living life with God in mind much less with God at the center.  Typically they are rejecting perceived hypocrisy or the perception that religion is just a bunch of rules to live by that cramp their style.  Usually when I hear people say "I believe in God but I don't like religion" I respond with the idea that Christianity is about relationship and often, it is as if they have never heard that idea before.  That says something at least about the way it is being lived out and presented by Christians today, if not how it is being preached sometimes.  I would like to clarify my thoughts on the matter for anyone who may have similar thoughts.  I believe you are missing out on a grand thing and I don't want you to.  There is nothing sweeter or more exciting than living in relationship with Jesus.  That is why I write this.

So, what do we mean when we speak of religion?  Some people think of organized religion in general, no matter the belief system, i.e. Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism  Mormons  Jehovah's Witness, etc.  Others, primarily Christians, talk about religion in regards to what makes you right with God, style of worship, structure of service, what you wear, what you eat or drink, what you do, how you think, etc.  Still other Christians talk about religion in regards to what you have a right to be free from in Christ and how that relates to being right with God.  Typically the last two take you too far in one direction or the other.  Either they are legalistic in their efforts to be righteous or they have a distorted view of God's grace and in what ways it makes you free.  Then there is relationship.  Only one view effectively teaches a biblical approach to a relationship with God from which everything else that leads to holiness is derived.

Of the six faith concepts that I listed in the first list of religions, Islam, Buddhism, Mormons  and Jehovah's Witness all have extra-biblical ideas of who their god or "higher power" is and what makes him a part of your life.  Islam and Buddhism not only do not have Christ as central in their beliefs but they also do not believe he was the Son of God, fully God and fully man, or that he died and rose again.  Mormonism and Jehovah's Witness, while claiming to be Christian sects, both have extra ideas of what makes you right with God and gets you into heaven.  Ideas that are outside of the idea that the price Jesus paid on the cross is the only thing that can make us righteous before a holy God in our dreadfully sinful state.  That is an oversimplification but it is sufficient to say that they should be considered cults and not Christian at all.

 I have heard leaders in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism both elude, if not outright state, that God's mercy is wide and you don't need a definite, consciously aware, fruit bearing relationship with Jesus in order to have eternal life.  That somehow people of all religious backgrounds, ignorant of the authority of Jesus as "the only name by which man may be saved" (Acts 4:12), will be reconciled to God in the end.  This is unbiblical and heretical.  It is a dangerous statement for the souls of those leaders.  While Roman Catholicism is predominantly works based, meaning that there are things you must do in order to be right before God, i.e. the cross plus some other religious work, unfortunately it will depend on whom you talk to in Protestantism as to whether you hear statements that suggest what you do plays a role in your salvation outside of the finished work of the cross.

Now, among Christians there are two prevailing thoughts regarding religiosity.  One is that your holiness and maybe your salvation is tied to what you do, wear, eat, drink, etc. Sometimes it is even based on whether you exhibit certain spiritual gifts or not. In this you find extreme, man-made, law driven, lifestyles and practices that are generally entirely unbiblical. 

On the other hand you find an anti-religiosity process in which the idea of freedom in Christ causes people to rebel against being held accountable for sin in their life.  Some will even understand "freedom in Christ" to mean you can do whatever you want and Jesus will forgive you and you will go to heaven because you "believe".  Sometimes, in it's most extreme cases, it is the "big sins" like sexual immorality, stealing, things of that nature that have become permissible.  More often however, it is the little sins like use of profanity, coarse joking, gossip, bitterness, jealousy or challenging what they watch or listen to on TV that raises eyebrows and causes people to become offended when challenged..  Even though these things are clearly challenged biblically in scriptures such as Ephesians 4:29-32 and 5:4 or Philippians 4:8.  Generally these "little sin" people are the truly religious people who go to church and maybe even are involved somehow that are blind to their "little sins" and have forgotten that we are supposed to hold each other accountable for anything that is unworthy of representing the gospel of Jesus Christ appropriately.  Their pride rears it's ugly head and they think themselves above such things.  Most of the time I think they are not even aware that they are deceived in this thought process.  I know this because I used to be one of them.  I had lot's of religion but very little relationship.  However, you could not  have convinced me of that at the time.

In the interest of some form of brevity I am going to break this up into two posts.  I will do a part 2, maybe even a part 3 regarding the most accurate and biblical understanding of Christianity which is a relationship with Jesus in which you are responsible for much and yet can do nothing because of your sin except that the Holy Spirit enables you to do it.  We will discuss what it means to have a relationship with a holy, just, and jealous God and yet, a God who is also loving in a way we could never be, full of grace and mercy, and willing to extend that grace and mercy to us in order that we may know more of Him and be known by Him (Galatians 4:9, 1 Corinthians 8:3).  It is a beautiful and most exciting depiction of the God of the universe that loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. 

I pray you will stay tuned and continue reading.  Because, relationship with this God has got it all over any kind of religiosity that man can create or rebel against.  It is freeing and wonderful.  It has much to do with your efforts and yet, it has NOTHING to do with your ability to do anything.

See ya soon.

Love in Christ,