March 1, 2016

It's Not a Religion, It's a Relationship

Post by Brittany Tedesco

View of road from driver's seat.

"Lord Jesus, help us!" my friend shouted. We were on our way to dinner one evening when a deer darted onto the highway, from the direction of the passenger side where I sat, right in front of us. I was too frightened to say anything as she slammed on the brakes. The deer bounced off the corner of the driver's side of her car, leaving us shaken but completely unharmed.

My friend kept talking about how terrible she felt for hitting the creature, but all I could think about were those instinctual words that came out of her mouth in a moment of danger. Those words hadn't come out of my mouth. . . why not?

"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left. . . " reads St. Patrick's famous quote.

I might know that Christ is always with me because I know what the Bible says, but is this truth a part of who I am? Do I know this truth like St. Patrick knew it?

I'm afraid the answer is no.

Last week I wrote about Pilgrim's Progress, an allegory that I've always loved. Christian battles temptation, despair, and danger along his journey, sometimes with the help of faithful friends, and sometimes alone. A Christian, however, is never alone.

Person walking on train tracks.

You and I know this intellectually, but how often have we gone to God to ask for things like "strength" and "grace" and "power" to face life's difficulties, as though they're supernatural "fuel" to carry us on down the road, alone?

Sometimes I wonder, should persecution strike me, if I'll be able to stand firm like the native missionaries assisted by Christian Aid Mission. Will I have the strength, or the grace, or the power to do so? Being acutely aware of God's presence with us eliminates that question entirely. It's the difference between holding onto to those little jars of "supernatural fuel" you asked for, quaking in your boots, in front of the giants; and breathing easy because you know Christ is with you and He runs the show no matter where you are or who's making threats on your life.

You've undoubtedly heard the evangelistic catchphrase, "It's not a religion, it's a relationship." And it's ever so true. . . we just don't live like it's true.

Okay, so what's the solution?

In his book, The Reckoning that Counts, Miles Stanford addresses what we're to do with the truths that we've learned and believe, but that aren't yet a part of who we are.

We believe the words of God, but do we really know Him?

Pen on open book.

There's good news for those of us who spend time studying our Bibles: this is the first step on the path to actually appropriating the truth of what we're reading. We can't grow up in Christ until we know the truth about Him through His word.

The second step is "resting and abiding" and the third step is "depending and walking," but so many of us never get beyond step one.

We have our quiet time where we study and pray, confessing our sins and bringing our needs before God. We do this regularly. And as important as this is, we've got to ask ourselves at some point: am I any closer to knowing God relationally, as my friend? Or have I just learned stuff about Him?

I'm working through my modest goal of reading through the Bible in two years, and I'm in the book of Exodus right now. Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and they were wandering in the desert, when God calls Moses to the top of Mount Sinai, where he remains for 40 days, so that God can give him laws for the Israelites to abide by and instructions on how to build the tabernacle.

Israelites waiting for Moses to come down with the Ten Commandments.

It's one of "those" sections of the Bible. . . where I have to read through all of the minute details about this and that. God was so specific about how the tabernacle was to be constructed—the type of wood, cloth, jewels, and precious metals to be used; the exact measurements of everything from the ark of the covenant to the altars to the table on which bread and utensils were to be kept; the lampstands fashioned to look like almond branches and the cherubim embroidered into the curtains.

Then there's the instructions for the actual sacrifices that God would require of His people—without going into all of the detail here, a lot of animal blood needed to be shed on a continual basis to atone for the people's sin.

Okay then. My Bible reading for the day is done. Close Bible. Commence prayer requests. Repeat tomorrow.

Except. . . I really want to know God, and this isn't cutting it.

Diagram of the Tabernacle.

So I decided to take a baby step on a different course. This time, I set my laundry list of requests aside. I don't talk at God, except to ask Him to show me His glory.

And then, it happened. Those words I just read? I didn't see them as a bunch of specifications from an exacting Deity, I saw them as the only means that a holy God, in whose presence none could stand, was able to dwell among His people whom He loved. He was desperate to be with them.

That veil that separated the holy of holies (which only the high priest could enter once a year) from the rest of the tabernacle had to be there, but God couldn't wait to do away with it for good. The moment Christ breathed His last breath on the cross, God tore that veil from top to bottom. He couldn't wait to be in relationship with His people!

The table inside the tabernacle was set with bread and utensils. God wanted to share a meal with His people—and He would, later, in the person of Christ.

And then there's this: God made all of the arrangements with Moses as to how He could dwell among His beloved people, even knowing that as soon as He finished instructing Moses, the Israelites would've already started worshipping a golden calf. How patient He is! Love is patient.

Recreation of the Tabernacle.

"The patience of God is that excellency which causes Him to sustain great injuries without immediately avenging Himself," wrote A.W. Pink in The Attributes of God.

My pastor included this quote from Pink on his personal blog, and added, "One of the most blessed pastimes for a believer is simply to meditate on the glorious attributes of God. To consider and ruminate on the Divine perfections has the power to not only strengthen your faith but to exhilarate your soul!"

These revelations of God's character change us. Our words aren't necessary as we simply bask in His glory. We are changed by seeing Him!

"We grow in Him as we allow the Holy Spirit to show Him to us," writes Stanford.

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB).

As we behold Him, we become like Him. And becoming like Him is His entire, eternal purpose concerning us.

How could we ever call this a "religion"? It is Christ. . . with me, before me, behind me, in me, beneath me, on my right, on my left, when I lie down, when I sit down, when I arise, in the heart of every man who thinks of me, in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, in every eye that sees me, in every ear that hears me (St. Patrick).

Ashley - posted March 16, 2016
It is the only religion which offers a relationship with the Almighty through faith alone.
Linda - posted March 3, 2016
Excellent. Thank you for the article and the book recommendation. I, too, have struggled with this same issue! Loved the blog last week too! Keep writing!
Tom - posted March 2, 2016
I have been thinking almost exactly along these lines. I do all the stuff: spending time in the Word; in devotional readings; meditating on specific passages; praying for people; waiting in silence for God to speak to me. It's been good. The Word is alive; God speaks to my heart; I see prayers answered. And yet, I want more. Seeking God with an honest heart and praying the scriptures into my life are key. Seeking God in community is essential.
Brittany Tedesco - posted March 2, 2016
Hi Daniel, Thanks for your comment. I typically loathe clichés and debated about whether or not to use this one, but I figured it might impel some people to read the post. I agree with you that replacing "religion" with "ritual" makes the phrase more accurate. The point is that our faith completely centers on getting to know a Person. Our brothers and sisters in India who are sharing the gospel are often accused of "religious conversion." In this context, it's helpful to distinguish between what the accusing parties define as religion and the relationship we have with Christ: "Veteran Pastor's Gentle Answers Turn Away Wrath in India" Thanks again for reading!
Daniel - posted March 2, 2016
I enjoy your blogs, but the title and theme of this one is a bit of a 'pet peeve' of mine. Websters defines religion as, "the service and worship of God or the supernatural". A secondary definition is "commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance" It is completely nonsensical to claim that Biblical Christianity is NOT a religion. It most certainly is by definition. Thinking non-believers are likely to find it disingenuous. What I believe the "its-not-a-religion" advocates mean to say is, "its not a ritual, its a relationship". In my opinion, this squares more accurately with both the English language and the context of the New Testament.