As a child, I was taught that when I give my heart to Jesus, He will come and live inside of me. First of all, that’s kinda weird. I don’t want someone living inside me. My mom said that my brother was living inside of her, so does that mean Jesus is going to be a baby inside me? Does that also mean He will come out in 9 months? Wait….that’s what happened to Mary in the story they tell me at Christmas time.
To clarify, He is not going to live in my belly. He’s going to live in my heart. I was also taught that in order for Him to stay in my heart, there was a list of rules I had to follow. If you chose not to follow the rules, then “you were not a Christian anymore.”
- I couldn’t go to the movies,
- I couldn’t drink wine (Jesus turned water into wine, why can’t I drink it?),
- I could only listen to Christian music,
- I had to be at church every time the doors were open, which meant I had to go to church even when I was sick and vacations with my family were out of the question,
- I had to read three chapters of the Bible every day,
- I had to pray every day for one hour,
- I had to go to the altar every church service to ask for forgiveness for my sins,
- I could only wear certain types of clothes,
- Every person I met, I had to tell them about Jesus,
- and the list goes on and on.
I’m sure you could add several more rules yourself.
If I didn’t follow every rule, all the time, then I couldn’t be a Christian or go to heaven. I think we can agree that reading your bible, attending church, and other actions listed above are all good things to do. However, it was the unrealistic expectations of how these actions were lived out that made them rules to follow, instead of opportunities to live out a life of worship.
All these rules had me so bound up that after 20 years (I can’t believe I lasted that long), I was ready to walk away from God not towards Him. I was told that if I stopped attending church, I would be walking away from God and I didn’t want to do that. I had seen so many people walk away for the same reason. Just like those people, I love God and wanted to know Him more, but didn’t want to live under the constant pressure and unrealistic expectations anymore.
Then one day, God showed me the difference between religion and relationship.
In Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve the choice of eating off any tree they wanted, except one tree. Again, we see in Joshua 24, the children of God are given a choice to serve God or not serve Him. God created us to make our own choices in life, not be controlled by other’s rules. He wants us to choose Him, but He is not going to force us to do so. It has to be our own choice. It has to be a heart choice.
The word, “religion,” is actually derived from an Old French or Latin word, religio(n-) , which means to bind. When I think of binding it reminds me of police cuffs or being captured without my Bird Box, etc. Wow! I watch too much Netflix. Binding doesn’t sound like I’m being given a choice.
Religion sounds more like a straight jacket. Those rules may have been developed with good intentions, but they were made by man, not God. I can attest to the fact that I felt bound up in all the rules of what I could and couldn’t say, watch, read, wear, or do.
God didn’t send His one and only son to die on the cross for us to follow a bunch of man-made rules. He sent Jesus so He could have a relationship with us. If God wanted to be controlling and tell us what to do all the time, then why would he create us? He made angels for that purpose. God created us for a relationship.
“Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (Romans 5:8).
If you’ve ever been to a southern church or a funeral, then you have probably heard the old hymn, “Amazing Grace.” You may have also heard the saying, “We are all saved by grace.” If you Google the word “Grace” it’s defined as the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
Grace to me means that when I make a decision to choose a relationship with God, I’m free. Free from rules, regulations, straight jackets and being bound up. Free to be me with the one who created me to be unique. My relationship with God may look different than your relationship with Him. Just like my relationship with my mother looks different than my brother’s relationship with my mother. There is no cookie-cutter relationship with God. The Bible even encourages us in Philippians 2:12, to work out our own salvation with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (CEVDC) says, “But God replied, ‘My gift of undeserved grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am.” Perfectionism is over-rated and that’s not what God wants from us anyway. Religion says we have to be perfect, God says He wants us just he way we are now.
Having a relationship with God is a journey. A journey alongside a God who loves us as His child. Just as you help a child get up when they fall, that’s what God does for us. As you walk this journey together, God may mention to you things in your life that are hindering your relationship with Him or that may be hindering you from growing closer together. You have a choice to remove those hindrances or a choice to keep them. Regardless of our choice to journey with Him or to take our own journey away from Him, one thing is for sure, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39).
One more thing……since no one is perfect and God didn’t create us to take this journey alone, being in a like-minded community is very important, whether that be in a church, group of friends, and/or family. Perhaps you can have a glass of wine as you read the bible and pray together, then afterward everyone can go watch a movie.
And that was the day I walked away from religion.
The Journey continues…..
It doesn’t matter what Religion you are practicing today, God is always waiting for you to have a relationship with Him. Choose today to walk away from those rules and regulations and join me in a relationship with the one, true God. His Grace is Sufficient for You! All you have to say is, “God, I walk away from religion. I want a relationship with you.”
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