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RELIGION VERSUS RELATIONSHIP
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RELIGION

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RELATIONSHIP?

The Greatest Question Facing Today’s American Church

 

By Junior DeSouza
 

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Religion
The Age-Old Sin
Religion and the American Church
The Signs of Religion
Something Better
Walking in Relationship with God

Which Will it Be?

 

        Perhaps the most relevant and poignant question facing the American church today is, Religion or Relationship?  God’s people, past and present, have always faced that razor thin line between these two realities.  The draw to replace an intimate relationship with God with a lifeless and ritual-based religion is a crossroads every church and believer inevitably comes to in their journey.  Whichever road is ultimately chosen determines the outcome of so much more than just one individual’s spiritual experience.      

 

Religion

 

        Positively, a religion is a system of spiritual beliefs and practices.  In that general sense, the religion of Christianity is the set of beliefs and practices centered on the person, words, and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In this sense, the word religion is simply a general designation used to identify a particular system of spiritual beliefs and practices. 

        The New Testament uses the phrase, “the faith,” in a similar way (Acts 6:7, 2Co 13:5, Ga 1:23, Jude 3; NKJV).  The faith conveys this same idea of “a system of spiritual beliefs and practices,” but more specifically, the Christ-centered one delivered by the first century apostles.  All those who are genuinely born-again in Christ are members of this “one faith” (Eph 4:5), the Christ-centered religion.

        There is, however, a negative connotation of the term religion.  In this second sense, the designation is used when God’s people replace intimacy with Him with lifeless and dry (un-)spiritual practices and rituals that have little or no personal impact.  Hence, the term religion (or religious) has come to have a negative connotation among many of our churches and brethren longing to preserve the primacy of that fresh and ever-deepening communion with Christ.  It is in this sense that I am using the word religion in this booklet.

 

The Age-Old Sin

 

        For ages God’s people have battled with the deceptive nature of religion.  Solomon said there was nothing new under sun, and that definitely includes religion.  Biblical history testifies to us over and over that religion is perhaps the most deceptive and ensnaring of all sins.  Why?  Because it is a downgraded, but close, counterfeit of authentic spirituality.

        Isaiah chapter 1 presents one of the best pictures in all the Bible of religion replacing relationship with God.  Of all that is mentioned, two major themes emerge as the high points.  First, Israel had departed from the intimate knowledge of God (Isa 1:3,4), and secondly, they had continued practicing the external spiritual rituals in spite of this departure (Isa 1:11-15).  It is amazing that God tells Israel to cast all their anxieties and burdens on Him (Ps 55:22), He lovingly cares for them, and He never complains that they are wearying or burdening Him.  Yet when their spiritual practices lose personal sincerity and God-centeredness, He pleads with them to stop because they are burdening Him (Isa 1:13,14)!  However, religion goes back further than Israel.                   

        Satan, that fallen archangel, is the greatest of all religious personalities.  As a matter of fact, his downfall was his prideful desire to establish a counterfeit religion of which he was the center and not God (Isa 14:12-14).  Through his deceptive half-truths and close counterfeits, he inspires a multitude of empty religions that lure people away from that authentic love relationship with the one true God through His Son Jesus.  Paul said that Satan does these things especially in the church, attempting to lure us away from our marriage intimacy with Christ – that simple and pure devotion to Him (2Co 11:2,3,14,15). 

        Revelation 2:1-7 contains truth that is paramount to these concepts.  Personally, I believe Jesus intentionally addressed the Ephesian church first (of the seven churches in Asia) to make an impacting statement concerning relationship and religion.  Verses 2, 3, and 6 tell us the Ephesian church was hard working, persevering, intolerant of evil, and discerning.  What a spiritual resume!  How many churches would love to have Jesus say those wonderful and affirming things to them!

        Yet verses 4 and 5 always move me when I read them:

               

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

 

        Jesus considers this hard working, persevering, holy, and discerning church fallen because they have forsaken and neglected their First Love – intimacy with Him.  Anytime I feel like patting myself on the back for working hard in the kingdom, or persevering faithfully through trials, or remaining holy in character, or discerning of evil, I have to come back to this Scripture and ask myself sincerely, Have I forsaken my First Love?  This is the true test by which we all must evaluate ourselves and our spirituality.

        Jesus acknowledged and affirmed the Ephesian church’s good qualities, He didn’t throw out “the baby with the bath water.”  Yet He had to be honest and true to His nature when He told them they had fallen from a great height by forsaking their love intimacy with Him.  The other qualities are great and necessary, but in the eyes of Christ, hard work, perseverance, holiness, discernment, or any other quality can never come close to the highest spiritual quality there is – loving God.  

                  

Religion and the American Church

 

        Unfortunately, Israel and our Ephesian brothers aren’t the only ones who have been lured away by religion.  It has crept into many of our American churches as well.  Many congregations, to differing degrees, have slipped away from their First Love and towards relationship-less religious routines. 

        This is evident to any observant believer, and sadly, to many disillusioned seekers as well.  We know religion has diluted many of our congregations when week after week our affections and passions are no longer stirred for our First Love, Jesus.  Prayer becomes consistently boring and worshipping in song is simply our lips on autopilot.  We are content to maintain the “holy huddle” or country club atmosphere in church and no longer zealously pursue the lost and unchurched.  Getting out of Sunday worship at twelve o’clock is more important than anything special the Lord may want to do or say.  We rush to leave the meeting without lingering to fellowship with and be involved in each other’s lives.   No genuine revival ever began at eleven and ended right at twelve!

        Perhaps the greatest evidence that our American church family has been affected in significant ways by religion is the fact that our culture continues to grow in anti-Christian sentiment and disillusionment, coupled with external trends of ungodliness and immorality.  It seems as if our international brethren see this more clearly than we do – it always touches me to hear that believers from other nations have felt a divine calling to come to America as missionaries!  An authentic national church will greatly influence its culture.  Justice and righteousness will be practiced widespread, and God’s kingdom will be the prevailing atmosphere. 

 

The Signs of Religion

 

        Can we get even more specific about religion?  What are some signs to look for that tell us we are living more in religion than relationship?  I believe God’s Word highlights several earmarks of religion for us.

 

§   Work over worship.  Individuals and churches walking in religion will often find themselves placing the highest spiritual priority on the work of the kingdom, and not on the worship of the King.  We know that work has a legitimate place in the kingdom.  We are even told to devote ourselves fully to the Lord’s work (1Co 15:58).  However, religion focuses on work over worship.  Precious Martha worked very hard to serve Jesus, and yet Jesus lovingly corrected her and said that sitting at His feet was the better priority, the one greatest thing (Lu 10:38-42).  Anointed and fruitful spiritual work can only happen when it is an extension of true worship.

§   Head knowledge.  Religion focuses mainly on intellectual head knowledge about God, while relationship integrates head knowledge and experiential knowledge.  The Pharisees studied and knew the Old Testament more than anyone else in all of Israel (Joh 5:39,40), and they even walked around all day with Scripture verses tied to their foreheads (Mt 23:5)!  Yet Jesus told them emphatically they did not personally or experientially know the God they “knew” so much about (Joh 8:55).  Religion is long on intellectual information, but short on heart relationship and experience.     

§   Legalism.  Legalism is the excessive preoccupation with keeping external spiritual practices (Mr 7:1-13).  It is more concerned with external practice than internal purity.  The Pharisees were masters at this.  In Mt 23:25-28, Jesus scathingly rebukes them for appearing righteous outwardly (by their “perfect” keeping of spiritual rituals), but their hearts were full of greed, wickedness, hypocrisy, and death. 

        Whether it be “perfect” church attendance, a daily “quiet time” or devotional, doing outreach every week without fail, always raising hands (or not) when singing, or performing some other spiritual practice, Jesus said He is searching hearts and minds (Re 2:23) and that His priority is on the heart, not externals (1Sa 16:7).  This does not negate or devalue forming good spiritual habits or establishing a consistent routine, it simply warns against preoccupation and priority on these to the neglect of a pure and sincere heart towards God.                     

§   Tradition.  Traditions are the man-made customs and behaviors that are unique to a place, group of people, or generation.  In the church setting, traditions are customs created by man either to enhance the biblical spiritual experience or to replace it.  In this sense, traditions can be positive or negative, depending on their purpose and consistency with the Word.  In a negative way, man has created certain customs to replace God’s Word.  These traditions are not found in the Word, nor are they conceptually consistent with the Word, yet they are held to, obeyed, and imposed on other Christians as if they were God’s very command.  Jesus rebuked the Jews for disobeying God’s Word in order to obey their man-made traditions (Mr 7:8,9,13).  Man-made traditions can be customs like style of music, type of dress, order of service, and so on.  Religion sees man-made traditions as the sacred cow never to be sacrificed, while relationship “trembles” at and obeys God’s Word as the highest authority for spirituality and life (Ezr 9:4, Isa 66:2).      

§   Majors on the minors.  Another sure sign of religion is “majoring on the minors.”  In other words, focusing and fixating attention and message on the peripheral aspects of God’s Word, while neglecting its more important core aspects.  Religion loves to focus on things like whether the death penalty is biblical or not, what the exact layout of end-time events should be, whether some spiritual gifts are still in operation or not, and various other particulars.  Relationship focuses on the “surpassing greatness” of knowing and enjoying Jesus (Php 3:7-10), loving and serving others in humility (Mt 23:11), and walking in personal integrity, mercy, and justice (Mic 6:8, Jas 1:27).  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they tithed their resources flawlessly, yet neglected the greater principles and commands of the Law, like justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Mt 23:23). 

        This does not negate or ignore the fact that we must deal with, dialogue about, and form convictions on the particular matters of kingdom life, because they are mentioned in the Scriptures.  This simply means that we do not over-fixate on these to the point of neglecting core biblical principles or bringing division and polarization to the Body of Christ.  Relationship focuses on the simplicity and power of walking in the greatest commandments (Mt 23:37-40, Mr 12:29-31) and the larger principles that eternally unify all born-again believers (Eph 4:1-5).    

§   Separation.  Religion tends toward separation, division, and alienation.  It is interesting to note that the original language meaning for Pharisee is “to separate.”  They were not “set apart” in a good sense (from sin), they separated themselves from the common people and from “common life” because of their attitude of spiritual superiority.  They based this arrogant attitude on their strict adherence to outward forms of piety.  Religion looks down its nose at other members of the Body of Christ, and, in extreme cases, won’t even fellowship or worship joyfully with another brother in Christ who is washed in the same divine blood as they.  Relationship looks for reasons to unify, reconcile, and join, not separate, alienate, or sectarianize.  In 1Co 1:13, Paul asked the “super-spiritual”, yet separatist, Corinthians, “Is Christ divided?”  

§   Rigidity.  Churches and believers in a religious mindset are often characterized by a rigid and restrictive code of conduct that frowns upon emotional expressions of spirituality.  Overflowing and sincere expressions like weeping, contrition, exuberance, shouting, laughter, or the like make religious attitudes uncomfortable.  However, the Bible is full of examples where God’s people overflowed with emotion and passion as a result of their relationship with Him (Ezr 3:12,13, 9:3-5).  The Psalms give us a great picture of genuine communion with God that deeply penetrates the heart’s affections.  Jesus expressed a broad range of emotional transparency (Mr 3:5, Lu 10:21, Joh 11:35-38, Heb 5:7). 

        Emotional transparency often makes us in America feel uncomfortable.  Our “educated” society impresses us with continual messages that we must hide our feelings and focus on intellectual prowess and physical beauty.  In many other nations this is not the case, and emotional transparency is much more accepted and commonplace.  Religion frowns upon emotional transparency, while relationship expects overflowing expressions from the heart.  Shouldn’t it make us question why we so freely pour out emotion at sporting events or in other personal hobbies, yet remain reserved and rigid when it comes to the very God who created our hearts?  The greatest commandment says it all, telling us to love God with all of our hearts first (Mr 12:30), even before loving Him with our mind and strength.           

§   Predictability.  A religious attitude clings to predictability.  In this context, predictability is almost synonymous with control.  Religion desires and determines to keep spirituality safe, familiar, and predictable.  It desires to keep God in a jack-in-the-box to be used at its own convenience or need.  Often this is because change and uncertainty truly reveals who or what we ultimately depend on and trust in.  It is not uncommon for the content of someone’s heart to be seen by their tendencies and behaviors during unexpected change, when life, familiarity, and expectations take unforeseen and unusual turns. 

        Relationship with God, however, puts us in the follower role, with Him as the leader and guide.  We are no longer in control, and we can no longer keep spirituality and life in a predictable box.  This requires faith, trust, and submission; the righteous live by these (Heb 10:38).  This requires self-crucifixion, as Paul put it (Ga 2:20).  When we walk in relationship, God will often lead, move, and work in unexpected and unpredictable ways.  He will often lead us down new paths unfamiliar to us (Isa 42:16).  Even though all of His works are for our own good (Ro 8:28), the unpredictable side of God unsettles some believers enough that they regress and choose to live in predictable religious routines and familiarities.  They remain in safe waters, in ankle-, knee-, or waist-deep waters.  Here they can touch the bottom and control their own fate, instead of swimming in the deepest part, letting the Spirit’s river of life carry them whichever way it will (Eze 47:1-6).  Religion clings to predictability within familiar rituals for stability and safety.  Relationship clings to God Himself, His unchanging nature, and His permanent presence for stability and safety.  These believers are as strong and stable as Mount Zion (Ps 125:1), though the earth may melt and all the other mountains around them crumble and fall into the sea (Ps 46:2).   

§   Hyper-administration.  This concept is closely related to the previous one (predictability), and is probably seen more readily in churches than individuals.  Because religion depends on predictability and the maintenance of its own agenda, it requires a great amount of tedious planning and organization (“hyper-administration”).  Fulfilling the administrative agenda competes with or replaces altogether the fulfillment of God’s will and purpose in people’s lives, which often times cannot be administrated.  All of a sudden clocks, calendars, deadlines, numbers, papers, cell phones, pagers, money, materials, management, workers, and so on become the object of mental energy.  All these things must become and remain the focus for religion to exist, and religion will exist where these things have become the focus.  The simplicity of prayer and the ministry of the Word (Ac 6:4) among leadership fade into obscurity in this environment.  Even if it doesn’t lose its priority, it loses mental interest and passion.  Sincere and intimate community takes a back seat.  Many other of God’s blessings are forfeited and missed because the church has become more like the management of a religious machine or business, and less like a spiritual family participating in a communal effort to live out God’s will. 

        Relationship recognizes the value and need for administration.  It affirms and commissions those with the “ship captain” gift, those with a supernatural ability for administration (1Co 12:28).  However, it understands that administration is simply a practical vehicle for implementing God’s will in a time-space-matter reality.  Relationship molds administration flexibly around God’s will and work, it doesn’t try and force it to fit into a preconceived iron grid.  It should humble us and teach us volumes when we read how a handful of apostles “administrated” the feeding of several thousand people in the early church (Ac 6:1-7).

§   Appearances.  Perhaps religion’s greatest concern is appearance.  Herein we see so clearly the spirit of Lucifer.  Religion wants to be seen, recognized, and prized for selfish reasons.  It loves facades, titles, places of honor, and public approval.  It shrinks away from transparency and personal authenticity.  Jesus sharply criticized the Pharisees for their hypocritical religious persona (Mt 23:5-7).  Relationship wants God and others to be seen, recognized, and honored.  When the believer or church walking in relationship is honored, the humble reply resounds, “I have only done my duty” (Lu 17:10).

§   Programs over power.  Paul tells us that in the last days serving religion will be commonplace; people will have “a form of godliness but denying its power” (2Ti 3:5).  Religion, a mere external spiritual “form,” substitutes elaborate programs for the presence and power of God.  Many churches have sold out to the notion that having a “buffet church with any program you need” will attract people and grow their church (numerically, at least).  Oftentimes this is because of a perceived need for drawing power and attractiveness to outsiders.  Even though programs, in and of themselves, are not wrong or evil, they can become that when they are substituted for the power of God in us individually and corporately.  Only sincere prayer, honesty, discernment, and critical evaluation can reveal this.  Anytime we think we need a certain program or production for our churches to flourish, we are forgetting the simplicity and power of the early church, as well as the word of 2Pe 1:3, His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness

        When we substitute programs for supernatural power, we also silently encourage people to become co-dependent on those programs instead of on the Lord Himself and His sufficient ability.  Religion depends completely on highly elaborate programs for attractiveness and success, while denying, resisting, or simply ignoring the power of God.  Relationship depends on God’s presence and power that has given us everything we need in every situation, season, and structure of church life and ministry.  We must never allow programs, however positive they may be, to replace God’s sufficient grace and power.  He is still El-Shaddai.   

§   Programs over people.  Religion also substitutes elaborate programs for genuine relational investment in people and community.  How easy it is to connect people to a program than to a heart!  This has two major backlashes.  First, when we connect people to programs only and instead of people, we are depriving them of a God-given need for healthy relationships and genuine community.  We are not truly loving or helping them, we are simply sedating their relational needs with the anesthesia of programs.  Secondly, we are encouraging their co-dependency on programs and the regular “fix” these programs provide, rather than promoting their emotional growth through interdependent friendships and shepherd-sheep discipleship relationships.  We are likewise forgetting that Jesus’ practical conduit for the restoration of broken humanity was people, not programs.  You and I are saved today because of twelve ordinary men who were committed, consecrated, and commissioned to a divine purpose.  Our program-savvy culture has doubtless affected many of our churches, making them more like a corporate business and less like Christ’s body.  Religion over-depends on programs, while neglecting people’s God-given deep relational needs.  Relationship with God overflows into, produces, and restores relationship with people, resulting in knowing and loving others even as themselves (Mt 22:37-39).  

      

        These earmarks of religion are present to differing degrees in churches and individual believers.  Some have successfully identified religious tendencies in their own experience and have managed to consistently walk in the Spirit and in relationship with Christ.  These churches and believers are examples to all of us.  Some, however, are less mature in their spiritual journey, and are still wrestling with the essence of true biblical spirituality.  All of us in the Body of Christ are at different points on the religion-relationship spectrum.  The important thing is that each individual, layperson and leader, honestly and prayerfully evaluate and identify where they are; and, from this fertile ground of honesty and humility, intentionally pursue growing in the grace and intimate knowledge of our First Love, Jesus Christ.         

 

Something Better

 

        The good news is that God has something better, higher, and much more rewarding for us.  There is something better than religion!  1Corinthians 1:9 tells us that God has called us into fellowship with His Son.  We are divinely called to relationship, intimacy, and communion with Him!  Jesus Himself, the Person, and not religion or religious practices, is the truest desire of all people (Hag 2:7, Mal 3:1 NIV). 

        I’m convinced every believer should read and saturate themselves with Psalm 91.  A life and spirituality that centers around communion with God provides amazing rewards: inner rest (v1,2), supernatural protection (v3,4,9-12,14), freedom from fear (v5-8), victory over the enemy (v13), answered prayer (v15), God’s presence and deliverance in trouble (v15), honor (v15), satisfaction and fulfillment (v16), and divine saving power (v16).  What a promise!  A lifestyle of walking in relationship with the Lord provides everything the human spirit longs for and was created for. 

             

Walking in Relationship with God

 

        Just as there are recognizable signs of religion, there are also recognizable signs of intimacy with Christ.  Individuals and churches that live centered on the Lord and in communion with Him have the following clearly identifiable features: 

 

§   Heart attitude.  The first and foremost sign of relationship with Christ is a heart attitude that is disposed to intimacy with and dependence on Him.  It is an attitude characterized by an inner “lean” toward God, the Person, and not away from Him to lesser substitutes.  It is a spirit of intimacy.  Attitudes are like food, they can be “smelled.”  In the same way we can smell and identify a certain type of food we love (or despise) without even seeing it, so also we can often sense and perceive attitudes, even without an open declaration of what someone feels or thinks.  Just as we are drawn to the pleasant aroma of good food, so also we are drawn and magnetized to people and churches that are intimate with the Father.  Their attitude and spirit captures something deep within us, and we simply know that this person or church truly walks intimately with Christ.  Paul said that our inner attitude and tendency needs to be made new (Ro 12:2, Eph 4:23), so that our automatic instinct is to relate with and depend on the Lord at all times.  The following concepts are simply a natural evolution of this basic, indispensable foundation.

§   God’s glory.  Those who walk in relationship long and live for God’s glory, honor, and pre-eminence in everything.  They understand and accept that this is the highest purpose and vision for their existence (Isa 43:7).  They desire this above all else and are conscious of this in everything, even in the “irrelevant” details of life (1Co 10:31).  All competitors with God’s glory in their life are honestly and specifically repented of, dealt with, and submitted to the practical sanctification of the Spirit.  Relationship promotes “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mr 12:29), while religion gives self or some other substitute the highest glory and attention.    

§   Openness to the Holy Spirit.  Those who walk intimately with Christ accept and admit their need for the Spirit’s daily movements in their life (Ga 5:16-18,25).  Therefore, they are open, ready, and willing for Him to speak, move, and act.  They are freely available to Him.  They want Him.  They long and thirst for Him.  They engage and pursue Him.  And, as a result, they continually experience fresh illuminations and blessings concerning the Lord, His ways, and kingdom life.  Religion resists the Spirit, and more specifically, the Spirit’s movement in ways that are unfamiliar, unpredictable, or uncontrollable to them (Ac 7:51-53).

§   Obedience.  A relational attitude toward God obeys His Word and the daily workings of the Spirit.  Jesus said that if someone truly loved Him he would also obey Him (Joh 14:21, 1Jn 5:3).  The two are inseparable in Christ’s eyes!  Intimacy with the Lord will eventually produce sincere obedience and Christlike character, and that because there is a continual inner motivation and empowering that comes only from communion with Him.  Religion obeys self, tradition, and other things, but it resists obeying the Lord, His Word, and His subjective workings in our personal life.  

§   Prayer.  If intimacy with God is relationship’s primary attitude, then prayer is relationship’s primary activity.  Jesus said His spiritual family would be identified as a House of Prayer (Mt 21:13).  Throughout the book of Acts we see what it means to commune with the Lord through prayer.  A prayerless believer or church has forsaken its First Love – it is impossible to be intimate with someone you don’t talk to! 

        However, more than the act of prayer, it is the attitude of prayer that makes it a telltale sign of relationship.  We all have heard ourselves and others pray in ways that do not reflect a heart attitude of intimacy with and dependence on Christ.  These prayers are usually fleshly and temporal in content, me-centered, and tunnel-visioned.  They minimize or exclude altogether the larger purposes of God and the kingdom’s core needs.  True prayer has God’s glory and purposes as the aim, and relationship with and dependence on Him as the attitude.  In this fertile soil, the believer sows prayer seeds of all kinds and reaps a tremendous harvest.  Even the most personal and seemingly insignificant requests are answered because the prayer seeds are sown in this soil.  True prayer is honest (Lu 18:9-14), never-ceasing (Lu 18:1-8, 1Th 5:17), passionate (Heb 5:7, Jas 5:17,18), and two-way (Joh 10:3,4,16,27).  Communion produces conversation!

§   The Word of God.  Relationship loves and cherishes God’s Word, the Bible (Ps 119:72).  It doesn’t see the Bible as a book, it sees it and dives into it as an extension of God Himself.  Those who walk in relationship don’t just “go through” the Bible, they let the Bible go through them (Eze 2:8-3:3).  They don’t just read it, they meditate on it long after it has been closed (Ps 1:2,3).  They don’t just know it, they experience it (Jas 1:22-25).  They don’t just study it, they hear the Spirit’s voice in it (Ps 119:18, 2Ti 3:16).  They have a relationship with the Word just as they have a relationship with the Author of that Word (Ps 56:10,11).  Religion exalts tradition, opinion, and man-made rules above the Word; relationship places the highest priority on God’s Word and its authoritative living truth.

§   Worship.  Relationship loves to worship God.  It loves to simply exalt, adore, praise, magnify, bless, revere, give thanks to, and extol the one true God.  This happens most practically through singing to Him and about Him (Ps 100:2).  You’ll never have to force a believer or church walking in relationship to sing to the Lord.  It overflows out of them.  Not only do they sing, they sing joyfully and sincerely.  It means something.  The singing has experience to validate its words.  Religion sees worship as keeping commandments, fulfilling spiritual obligations, and maintaining external forms of piety, but is void of reverent affections from the heart (Isa 29:13 NIV).  

§   Transparency.  Being transparent doesn’t frighten or threaten those who walk in relationship with God.  They don’t shrink away from being authentic and real before others.  They are not consumed with having to perform or be somebody else to feel adequate.  They have found that their deep personal security and identity are founded in Christ (1Co 3:11) and rooted in love (Eph 3:17).  Because of these things, they are able to enjoy genuine community and healthy relationships with others.  Most importantly, however, they know they must be transparent before an omniscient God.  They understand the real meaning behind the sea of glass before God’s throne (Re 4:6) – transparency precedes God’s presence.    

§   Fellowship/Community.  Relationship loves the body of believers because the body of believers is an extension of Christ Himself.  To love and fellowship with Christ is to love and fellowship with His people.  The apostle John tells us that anyone who does not love the Body of Christ is in darkness (1Jo 2:9)!  He or she is definitely not walking in the light of relationship with Christ.  You can always feel the coldness of a person or church walking in religion, they are absent of that warm glow of love that invisibly binds together all of God’s people walking intimately with Him.  Anyone experiencing God’s love will desire that same communion of love with His people (1Jo 4:11).

§   Evangelism.  Those walking in relationship have a zeal to see the lost experience the same blessing.  They may not be unusually gifted in evangelism, but their hearts long to bring others into that saving relationship with Christ.  You can sense if someone is living in fellowship with the Lord by their perceptions and value on evangelism.  They may not know how to reach the lost and they may be the worst communicators, but their conversation, prayers, and desires are for others around them to enter that saving relationship with Christ.  Peter and John, unschooled ordinary men, were bold in evangelism because “they had been with Jesus” (Ac 4:13).  Those who walk in His presence today experience the same spirit.  Religion is exclusive and separatist, and would rather preserve the communal status quo than see multitudes come to salvation.      

§   Changed Lives.  Finally, those walking in relationship experience genuinely transformed lives.  They themselves are transformed, and others are transformed by their example.  The apostle John tells us that anyone who genuinely knows God and abides in Him will experience an obvious and undeniable character metamorphosis (1Jo 1:5-7, 3:4-10).  No one can know and commune with God Almighty without also being significantly changed forever.  God’s children who walk intimately with Him take on their Father’s nature and attributes. 

 

Which Will it Be?

 

        We will never see a major awakening and revival in our land unless we, the American church, walk and live in that fresh and ever-deepening intimacy with our First Love.  We must decide, with the grace of the Lord, to walk out of religion and into relationship.  For some, that may mean being saved and born-again for the first time.  For some, that may mean making minor spiritual adjustments.  And for some, that may mean a total deconstruction of the present spiritual model, and a glorious reconstruction and revival of authentic biblical spirituality.  God’s trumpet still resounds a clear call to His people – which will it be, Religion or Relationship? 

 

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