I have a friend who calls himself a “recovering religious addict.” I can describe myself this way also. There are days I want to try to make a formula fit every situation, rather than turning to the One with whom I have relationship. I sit in self-righteousness for a moment over something I want to say I’ve done, only to collapse into self-loathing in realization I can’t maintain anything. Religion is poisonous and life-sucking, as we try to earn love and approval through performance. And it’s love we already have from God! We work for something we already have.
Many people want to call me “religious” because I talk about Jesus and my relationship with Him. Mike Wells used to say that the difference between religion and relationship is that religion ends at my feet and relationship ends at God’s feet. If it is up to me to carry the relationship, I am worshipping religion. But what is God doing to maintain His relationship with you? I would venture to say, everything. Your job is always to be willing, not to create or manufacture strength, patience, hope or even faith. We are to be branches on the vine, not vinedressers, or roots or the Vine itself. Often we take on jobs that are not suited for the branches. Branches are to remain attached and allow the life-flow of the Vine. That’s all they do! And the fruit naturally grows on them as these two things are true.
As a child of my father, there will be things true of me because of my status as a Davenport child. I will have brown eyes and brown hair because all three of us siblings do. I will have a stubborn streak and a craving for country life because those things are true of my father. I can fight these things—dye my hair, pretend to be passive and live in the city—but it actually takes more work to fight them than to walk in what I naturally already am because of my family association.
As a child of my Heavenly Father, there will be things true of me because of my status as a child of God. I will love others because my Father does. I will crave relationship and intimacy (and I mean real intimacy here, often mistaken to be only the skin-deep variety) because my Father loves relationship and intimacy. I will be happier if I do the things set forth in Scripture. I can fight these things also because I don’t like them or don’t want to do them, but I usually this is because I realize my lack of being able to do them.
The crazy thing is that not only have I been adopted into God’s family and now all that is true about Him is true about me, but He also provides all I need to do the things that are normal for a child of God. He doesn’t leave me to it and hope I make it through, criticizing me every time I get it wrong because I haven’t met the mark. He says He has provided my very life, and all the fruit of the Spirit (not my fruit to be generated and slugged out by me, but the Spirit’s fruit within me) I need can come pouring out of me.
The way I become stunted and distorted is when I don’t turn to this relationship for all I need for this life, but instead look within myself to eek out all I see God has commanded. This is the heart of religion—do all the good things, don’t do the bad things, maybe you’ll earn some approval. Natural outpouring of the Life of Christ within me becomes fulfillment of the promises of God—the commands of God become promises of God. It’s not a list of things I need to try to do or not do, but as I come to Jesus for all I need and for His very Life within, I will naturally do or not do those things because they are normal for me in Christ. I am His child, and thus these things will be true about me.
He says apart from Him we can do nothing. We hit that standard every time. But then we set up all sorts of other standards (man-made ones) to hold ourselves and others to, torching any chance of relationship and enjoying Life in the midst of watching the promises come true naturally through us as children of God.
In our relationship with God, we come as children, confident in our Heavenly Father that He will be all we need for the day. It is a dependence we aren’t used to in the North American culture, but it suits us better than the independent pride with which we try to surround ourselves. Our approval with God is not based on what we do or how well we maintain the rules. Our approval with God is based on being His adopted child, bought from the slavery of sin and darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Light. We get to learn to act like a child of God while experiencing His patience and love surrounding us.
While my children were learning to walk, I didn’t yell at them every time they fell over! Just so, while we are learning to come to Jesus’ Life within as our source, God isn’t beating up on us for the process. He is patient and long-suffering. And He wants more than anything for us to know Him and be in real relationship with Him.
My beloved ones, don’t ever limit your joy or fail to rejoice in the wonderful experience of knowing our Lord Jesus! I don’t mind repeating what I’ve already written you because it protects you— beware of those religious hypocrites[a] who teach that you should be circumcised to please God. For we have already experienced “heart-circumcision,” and we worship God in the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit, not in laws and religious duties. We are those who boast in what Jesus Christ has done, and not in what we can accomplish in our own strength. Phil. 3:1-3 (The Passion Translation)