Unfortunately the word religion has been used in a positive or descriptive sense all throughout history to describe the Christian faith. People still refer to that which you and I believe in and live as ‘The Christian Religion.’ But when you look up the definitions of religion in all the secular dictionaries you will not find one description which contains the word RELATIONSHIP. That is very interesting and significant because even a quick browse through the Bible will reveal to the most unenlightened, sin-impaired mind that the Christian faith is all about relationship! From Genesis to Revelation we have the story of God creating us to be in relationship with Himself and with each other. The whole Bible is about relationships and where they went wrong and what God did to fix that and what we are meant to do (and not do) to participate in His global campaign to re-establish close, intimate, eternal relationships with His lost children.
I am not talking about man’s relationship to God in some abstract philosophical sense here. That is what religion does … that is what philosophy does. I am talking about our personal relationship with God – our face-to-face intimate communion. That concept is foreign to religion, and yet that is what the Bible is all about! That’s what the Great Commission is about. That’s what the Golden Rule is about. That’s what the Ten Commandments are about – and every teaching and instruction from Jesus and Paul and all the Biblical writers – it’s all about RELATIONSHIP and none of it is about religion.
Religion is our feeble attempt to establish and maintain a relationship with God through every means possible other than that which He ordained, provides and empowers.
Some of the most powerful and effective demonic spirits in Satan’s army are religious spirits. They are the ones who spend all their time working on Christians like you and me; the ones who went after the believers we read about in Galatians. Those believers were totally and powerfully set free in the Spirit and they knew what it was to have a dynamic, personal, life-changing relationship with a living God. Yet within a few short years they had been bewitched by religious spirits and were trying to relate to God through dead religious works again.
You were included in Christ when you heard the truth about your salvation and believed it. At that point the Holy Spirit of God was released in you to make it all real and introduce you to the risen, living Lord. In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul states emphatically that everything you could possibly want, or imagine, or even things that you can’t imagine, are yours for free, in Christ. It’s all part of the salvation package, and that package is all or nothing. Therefore we have the following assurance from God in Christ … are you ready? OK, brace yourself – here it comes:
God chose you and adopted you as a son or daughter and lavished His grace upon you in Christ; your salvation and eternal life with God is a free gift with no strings attached; Nothing you do or don’t do could ever save you or cause you to lose your salvation; your eternal relationship with God was secured on the cross by Jesus before you were even born – before you could say yes or no, before you could sin or rebel; you have been totally and wonderfully set free by the grace of God to love and serve. There is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved, except the name of Jesus. The only way into a relationship with the Father is through Jesus – and by accepting your salvation as a free gift – not just once, but every day of your life! To know Him at all is to know Him as a free gift. To participate in His life, ministry and fellowship, you have to understand His grace, because nothing in the kingdom of God is bought, sold or traded. It’s all given and received, received and given – FREE!
Do I hear an amen?! It can be hard to learn to receive love from God and others but it is so important. We also need to learn to give love to God freely in worship, obedience and service; and to love one another in acceptance and kindness. We need that assurance so we can discern the religious traps that would make us slaves to performance again. We need the empowering presence of God in our lives to be able to rest in that assurance, revel in our relationship and be kept free from those influences. The trouble is, they can look so plausible. I’m sure the Galatians would not have chosen to reject the gospel, if they realised that was what they were doing, and nor would we. But well-meaning Christian brothers and sisters, many of them teachers in the Church would say (or imply): “So you’ve accepted Jesus … great start! But now, you need to press on into the higher things of God, by … having a daily quiet time, reading and memorising the Bible, praying, fasting etc. … You get in for free … but you get on at your own expense!” Now these disciplines are all great – but they are never a basis for being accepted or not by God. Instead of looking to Jesus and being blown away by His love and grace and empowering presence in our life, we are encouraged by religion to look at ourselves. That personal relationship is traded in for performance-based religion and God really hates religion!
The great thing about freedom is that when you know you’re free – law, religion, people and even the devil himself can no longer manipulate you. My highest goal for each believer is that you become so secure in God’s love and acceptance, nobody can manipulate you or obligate you or make you feel guilty or oppressed in any way … ever again. That is my prayer. That is God’s will.