What if we really understood how God looks at us? What if we really comprehended how much he really loves us? How would that change us? Many of us grew up hearing “Jesus loves you” but are tormented with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Some have been so overwhelmed by this that they have given up trying to please God and have chosen to live life on their own terms. Some have decided that God is not for them because the Jesus they see in people doesn’t match the Jesus they are told loves them so much. This is what happens when religion takes the place of relationship.
From the beginning, God created people because He wanted relationship with them. He created a perfect environment for them, cared for them and spent every evening with them. After sin entered the world, this damaged things because shame was introduced to His beloved people who were suddenly aware of their nakedness. Although God really loved His people, sin was now separating Him from them. Jesus came to repair the broken relationship so that we could once again connect with God. Like the days of the beginning, He intended for us to depend on Him for absolutely everything in our lives. We were made in His image and created by design to have our needs met by only Him. As we learn to be like Him, He fulfills our needs. It’s very important to note that these two things can’t be separated without causing a serious imbalance. We were never intended to try to be like Jesus (in fact, it is entirely impossible) without having a relationship with him. We are also incapable of receiving His blessings apart from Him without destroying ourselves.
Apart from God we are run by our selfish nature which is never satisfied. It constantly tugs and pulls at us with it’s raging appetite but no matter how much we give in to it, it is never satisfied. It pulls us further and further from God with promise of fulfillment just around the corner. Our selfish nature (the Bible refers to this as our flesh) wants nothing to do with anything that threatens it. Even when our spirit desires to do right, if we haven’t spent enough time with God, our selfish nature, or our flesh will fight to overpower our spirit and drive us to destruction. If we have even a small desire in our hearts to please God this causes a great conflict within ourselves as we then feel guilty.
When we spend time with God, we become more like Him and all of the things that He is. Our heart changes as our selfishness is overcome and our desires change to become like God’s desires. When our desires are in line with His, He is able to fulfill them because with selfishness out of the way, the blessings won’t harm us. The more time we spend with God the less we feed our selfishness. The less selfish we are, the easier it becomes to follow God and allow Him to change us.
What is the difference between religion and relationship?
Religion puts the focus on rules, rituals, obligation and sacrifice which minimizes the place of relationship. It causes us to do things we don’t want to do in an effort to free ourselves from guilt. It causes feelings of shame and unworthiness, yet it also causes pride and deception. It gives us a false sense of “paying our dues” or “earning our own way” when in reality, there is no amount of good deeds that could even come close to paying off our sin debt. It causes a hardness of our hearts toward dealing with our selfish ways if we can solve our guilt by doing A-B or C, but ignore the issues we don’t want to deal with. We find loopholes in the rules to justify what we want to do and do a few extra good deeds to offset the guilt balance.
Rule following and sacrifice without relationship puts ourselves in a slave/taskmaster situation. Without the love relationship we are working hard for something we can never attain on our own and we eventually become bitter and resentful. We are overwhelmed by the guilt we feel when we don’t meet the standards we believe we are required to meet and we look for fault in others to ease that guilt. Guilt pushes us even further from God because we are afraid of what He will require of us. We are too afraid of how hard the change might be so we avoid getting too close to God. We compare ourselves with others as a gauge to tell us how how we measure up. Depending upon who we are looking at, we either feel prideful and justified, or we feel inferior. Have you seen this in your own life at any level? Do you recognize this pattern in other people? Some of the extreme examples are those you see out on the streets holding signs that say “God hates gay people”. They are the angry ones who try to convince people with logic that Jesus is the way, but don’t have any love in their words. They are the bitter and angry ones that bring contradiction to the message that Jesus is love. Don’t be angry with them. They are miserable people because they know religion, but not God. Don’t let them misrepresent who God is to you.
A relationship with Jesus does the exact opposite. As we spend time with God, He guides the change in us, but the difference is that our change is completely motivated by His love. We don’t have to try to be something we’re not because when we surrender our lives to God, He does the changing and working in us. All we were ever required to do is surrender ourselves to Him and ask Him to make the changes in us. Yes, it requires some obedience and some discipline but when it is done in the presence of His love there is no bitterness, resentment, anger or frustration. He doesn’t love us less when we miss it. There is no comparison standard with others. No fear of falling from grace. Just you and your loving father working out the kinks one step at a time. It is a beautiful and comforting relationship and that beauty is displayed in our relationships with others. When we accept the love, kindness and mercy given to us, it energizes change and we in turn extend that same love, kindness and mercy to others. We are free from guilt, free from comparisons and confident that we are loved. Joy and freedom is the result. This is when people will see Jesus. Not in what we preach with words, but with what we demonstrate in our every day actions.
Matthew 11:30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus wants to walk this out with you one step at a time. If you have never accepted Jesus into your life, or have only known a form of religion, please take this opportunity now to invite Him into your life. There are no fancy words to pray. Just speak to Him just as you would normally speak and ask Him to come into your life and change your heart. Send me a message or comment here so we can celebrate with you.