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,