Religion vs Relationship

The story is told about the first century Chief Rabbi, Akiva ben Josef. He was a prominent and influential figure. One day he was walking along the edge of the water and the day was almost over. The light was fading and while he was caught up in his daily meditations he was distracted and wandered off onto the wrong path. After some time he found himself at the gates of a Roman garrison rather than in his hometown of Capernaum. Suddenly, a Roman soldier in a brusque voice called out, “Who are you, and why are you here?”

In true Rabbinic style, Akiva is said to have smiled and responded to the sentry with a question of his own. “How much do they pay you to stand guard and ask that question of anyone who approaches?”The young soldier was a little taken aback by his response but realized this man was a Rabbi and no real threat to the garrison. “Five drachmas a week” he replied. The rabbi made the young man an offer. “I will pay you three times that much if you stand in front of my home and ask me that same question every morning.”

I realize that no matter how long we have walked with Jesus it is still profoundly important to know who we are and the reason for being here. There are just so many distractions that seduce our pure love walk with Him. That’s why Jesus makes it clear to us, “I am The Way.” This is the relational way, the Jesus Way.

God calls us to follow

When He speaks during times of uncertainty and says, “Follow Me, John” I am strengthened and encouraged because He comes alongside each time and in every situation bringing peace, purpose, and stability. Identity and purpose are critical for each of us to know and embrace as Jesus builds His Church in the midst of the distractions of life. The most obvious distraction, and easy to spot is a religious distraction when God’s life is no longer evident and human effort, lifeless routine along with misplaced graceless energy replace it. If my life is stuck in sameness and plodding routine I need to make changes. As a dear friend once said, “If the predictability factor is too high in our gatherings or our lives for that matter, the revelatory factor is too low!” Who I am is found in Jesus alone. And I am here to do His will and not my own.

God is not religious

I have become accustomed to being asked if I am religious. Yet, God is not religious and through His death on the cross and His bodily resurrection, I have been placed in Christ and made a new creation. So, I often respond with something like this, “I am not religious but I do have a relationship with God because of what Jesus has done for me.” Religion and relationship are miles apart and religion has no part in the Church that Jesus is building.

A close friend asked me a question recently. How do you think the apostle Paul would feel about the Church if he were to visit her today? Bear in mind that Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth [1] and made these statements,

“Christians cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life” – Holiness

“I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God.” – Passion and devotion

“You must get along with each other” – Unity

We can know His Way

Thankfully, God chooses to reveal Himself, His heart, and his mind to us. And because of His tender mercy and lovingkindness, even a child can hear His voice and walk in His ways. As a friend of mine said, “Children and new believers often hear God better than those of us whose Christian walk has become complicated by the human, reasoned ‘teaching’ we have received.”

Paul would be astounded that in spite of all our so-called technological advancements we have downscaled our calling to live holy lives in a society in desperate need of Jesus-centred holiness. Half-heartedness is prevalent and wholeheartedness is replaced by consumer Christianity. We separate ourselves into our own little organizations instead of being The Church holy and separated in our first priority love for Jesus. Once we step aside from these distractions I am convinced many will find Christ in us attractive.

  1. 1 Corinthians 1 [The Message]