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Rules vs. Relationship:

The difference between religion and Christianity

by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC, Mental Health Coach,
Keynote Speaker, CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries

The Nature of God’s Love

Love is the nature of God. 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” It is who He is. God loves you and there is nothing you can do to change it. God loves you and there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to that will cause God to love you less. You can’t earn his love because God is love. It’s His nature and you can’t change that. And because He loves you, He wants to have a relationship with you.

You Can’t Change the Fact that God Loves You

We all go through moments of life wondering if a parent, spouse, child, or friend loves us. Maybe we did something to disappointment them and the relationships with them was broken and now we doubt how they feel about us now. Maybe that someone you disappointed was God and you find yourself wondering, “How could God possibly love someone like me?”

There are also those who go around trying to do every good work in an effort to get God to love them or to love them more. They pay penance, fast, live moral lives, give to the poor, or any number of things they believe will earn them God’s love. However, the simple fact is God loves you and there is nothing you can do that will cause God to love you more or less.

You Can’t Make God Love You Any Less

Because love is God’s nature, we find that the prophet Jeremiah writes, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” But God doesn’t just tell us that He loves us. He acted out his love. John 3:16 says, “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.”

Even though God knew that each one of us was born in sin, an enemy of God, God still sent His Son to die and pay the debt of our sin for us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God proves His own love fore us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” When did God prove His love? When did Christ die for us? While we were still sinners. So there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less.

You Can’t Do Anything to Make God Love you More

Ephesians 2:1-10 tells us that we are dead in our trespasses and sin. But in verses 4-5, Paul wrote, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” It is because of God’s love and grace that He offers you the free gift of salvation. Not anything you have done. There is absolutely nothing you can do that will cause God to love you more. He loves you so much that even when you were a filthy, dirty sinner, He sent His only Son to die for you. Jesus told us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” There is no greater love than the love of Jesus, who died for you.

Christianity is about a Relationship

There are many religions that tell you you have to do this or that in order to be a Christian. But faith is what sets Christianity apart from religion. Faith in Jesus. Faith that believes He is the Son of God who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, was buried for three days and then rose again. And because of that faith we have a relationship with Him. 1 John 3:1 says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” As Christians, we have a relationships with God because Ephesians 5:1 tells us  we were adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God by Jesus Christ for no other reason than because it was according to the good pleasure of His will.

Religion is about Rules

Religion on the other hand is about rules. Some religions will demand a person to pray a certain number of times per day or to fast for a whole month each year.

Another religion says its followers must use separate sinks for preparing dairy and non-dairy foods.

Another religion requires its followers to get up 3 hours before dawn every day to wash and pray.

There is another religion that requires its followers to make an offering at a household shrine 3 times every day.

One religion requires the men to wear special underclothes and when couples of that religion have children, they begin saving for those children because when they become young adults, they are supposed to spend 2 years serving as missionaries to that religion.

And we are all familiar with the religion that requires its follows to spend a certain amount of time each month going door-to-door, sharing their literature and signing people up for their religious studies.

Religious Rules of Jesus’ Day

Rules. Things were no different in Jesus’ day. The religious leaders of His day had developed a religious system with 613 laws. They chose the number 613 because that was how many separate letters were in the text containing the 10 Commandments. They found 613 commandments in the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Then they divided the list into affirmative commands (do this) and negative commands (don’t do this).

There were 248 affirmative commands, one for every part of the human body, as they understood it. There were 365 negative commands, one for each day of the year. They further divided the list into binding commands and nonbonding commands. Then they spent their days debating whether the divisions were accurate and ranking the commands within each division. [John MacArther, Matthew 19-23 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988), 337-38.]

Religious Rules of Today

We see the same trend happening in Christianity today. There are people who try to add rules to Christianity that are not there. Things like, not eating meat on Fridays, or doing without something for 40 days during Lent. Some folks measure their religious zeal by the length of their skirts, or how long their hair is. Even things like having a quiet time can become a legalistic, religious rule, if you let it.

Jesus isn’t into all of that measuring, one-up-man-ship, and rules. When someone came and tried to get Jesus’ opinion on what the great commandment was, He answered, “Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus says, “Y’all go around measuring and comparing and think you’re doing well. But all of godly living comes out of these two simple commands.” No wonder Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” You see, religion is about rules.

Christianity is about a relationship

Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.” What does Jesus say, in this verse, was necessary in order to have a relationship with him? You hear Him, and open the door. You hear His voice, and you invite Him into your life.

In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.” My friends, Christians – disciples of Christ – are people who have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The disciplines we have in our lives flow out of the relationship we have with, and our love for their Savior. Nothing you do will make God love you any more. Nothing you do will make God love you any less.

The disciplines we practice, we do so because we want to become more like our Savior. Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Relationship. We have a relationship with our Savior which makes us children of God and therefore we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father who loves us with an everlasting love. Not because we earned or deserve it, but because of his lovingkindness, mercy, and grace. As His children, we practice the disciplines of our faith as a joy, not an obligation or to earn His favor.

Has religion become a burden?

If your religion is burden, I invite you to tell Jesus right now that you want a relationship with him.

Admit to Him that you are a sinner. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Tell Him that you believe He is God’s Son and that He died on the cross for you, and rose again. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Confess Jesus as the Lord of your life and commit yourself to a life of following Jesus. Romans 10:9-10 says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Are you following a religion, or do you have a relationship with God you loves you with an everlasting love?

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Conversation with God

Prayer is conversation with God

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By Max Lucado / Thomas Nelson

Do you wish you prayed more—with more fire, faith, and fervency? Embarking on a journey to the very heart of biblical petition, Lucado explores the quotable, repeatable, portable prayer that Jesus gave his first followers when they struggled with this spiritual discipline. Discover how to have a heartfelt dialogue with God—and let the conversation begin! 192 pages, softcover from Nelson.

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Jesus is Waiting

Jesus knocking.pngHow far away does God feel right now? As Christians, there are times when we feel God is so close that we can feel His very presence in the room with us. We are able to bask in His glory and we never want to leave that moment.

Other times, we cry out, “God! Where are you?!” We feel that our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and getting nowhere. We assume that God is not there…not listening. But I want to ask you, have you opened the door…or are you just yelling through it? Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Too often we get so busy and caught up in life that we don’t hear the soft knocking of Jesus at our heart’s door…insistent knocking….as He stands and waits for us to let him in and allow Him to spend our day with us. We miss the soft whisper across our heart as He calls out our name and says, “I am here.” As we wonder why He is silent and He doesn’t respond to our prayers, we continue on with our busy lives. Sometimes, we just need to stop. We need to get in a quiet place and turn our focus to Him. Then we can hear His soft, insistent knocking. With our focus on Jesus, we can hear his voice.

It’s important to understand that Jesus will never barge in like an uninvited guest. He will never be charged with “breaking and entering” the space of our heart. He stands at the door of your heart and knocks. Waiting for you to open the door and invite Him in. Then He will come in and spend time in sweet fellowship. In fact, he wants nothing more than to spend time with you. After all, He gave His life just so He could.

In John 10:7, we see another reference about a door. This time Jesus is referring to Himself when he said, “I am the door.” He is the door that leads to salvation. He is the door that leads to eternal life. He is the door that leads to comfort. He is the door that leads to protection. He is the door that leads to provision. He is the door that leads to joy. He is the door that leads to wisdom. He is the door that leads to peace. He is the door that leads to healing. He is the door that leads to fulfillment. He is the door that leads to ____________ (fill in the blank with what’s going on in your life).

In Hebrews 13:5, Paul states a promise that was given to Joshua and is true for all Christians. The promise says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Because we can trust God to keep His promises, we can know that He is near, even if we’ve put up a barrier by closing the door. He’s just on the other side. Jesus stands at the door of our hearts knocking and seeking entrance. When we open the door and receive Him as Savior, He then becomes the door that leads to all that we need. As Max Lucado wrote, “Prayer is the hand of faith on the door handle of your heart. The willing pull. The happy welcome to Jesus: “Come in, O King. Come in.” (Lucado, 2014) Will you quiet your heart to hear Him knocking? Will you stop your busy day and open the door? He’s there. Standing. Quietly and insistently knocking. Waiting. Waiting for you to make Him the priority of your day…of your life. Waiting for you to be obedient to what He’s asked you to do. Waiting for you to surrender that heartache you’ve been holding on to. Waiting for you to open the door and invite Him in. Your hand is on the door knob…go ahead and give it turn and pull it open. He’s there.

Lucado, M. (2014). before amen. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.