“Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
I’m sure you’ve heard that old adage before. What people mean when they quote it is that the only hope for the Christian is not in religious actions or pious discipline, but only in our relationship with the Savior, Jesus Christ. This is because after the fall of man into sin, even our best actions are not good enough to save us. Sin is the human identity. In fact, in this state, even our most righteous actions are so disgusting to God that in the original language of the bible they are compared to both menstrual cloths and fecal matter (Isaiah 63:6 and Philippians 3:8 respectively, although the English translators make an effort to use less offensive language).
That means that the Christian (or any other religious person) who is trying to clean himself up in order to be acceptable to God, is working towards a completely unattainable goal. If your righteous acts are as disgusting to God as the things we humans flush down the toilet are to us, what makes us think that God is sitting in heaven hoping we’ll make more of those things to “offer” to Him? Do you want to find those under your tree on Christmas morning, and if they are there, do you think you’ll accept that the person who gave them to you did so out of love? I wouldn’t.
God is not up in Heaven telling us “be more righteous.” Instead the Holy Spirit is continually trying to get us to the point of realization the we do not have the ability on our own to be righteous at all. Our only hope is to accept the fact that Jesus already paid the penalty for our sinful deeds (both the morally bad and morally good ones), and then by faith to clothe ourselves in His righteousness, freely offered to us by grace.
I struggle with this.
I hold on to a religious attitude toward Christianity way too often.
I stress out over my lack of ability to measure up to the “standard” of what a Christian “should” be. I look at myself and know that I am not good enough. And the fact is, no matter how much harder I try, I can’t seem to fix myself.
The problem is that when I hold on to this religious approach to the Christian life, it KILLS my relationship with Christ. Instead of running to Him as one loved despite my failures, I try to run away from Him as one who thinks that God could never love me like this.
I try, fail, and end up hiding from God. That is what religion gets me.
That is completely backwards from the truth of scripture.
Scripture first tells us that once we receive salvation from Christ, our identity is changed.
The bible tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) meaning that our identity is not changed by works. Or as 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “…you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us… righteousness and sanctification and redemption…”
If you are in Christ, then terms like ‘sinner’ and ‘unrighteous’ no longer apply to you. That is no longer your identity. This is why later in 1 Corinthians 6, after identifying types of sinners like idolators, adulterers, thieves, greedy people, drunks, and more, Paul goes on to say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Did you catch that? That is who we WERE in the past. NOW we are WASHED (that is, cleaned up), SANCTIFIED (meaning set apart for God), and JUSTIFIED (or NOT GUILTY), by God’s Spirit in the name of Christ.
That means that we are already righteous, we are just waiting on our lives to catch up. Even that fact, though, does not throw us into a legalistic, religious pursuit of holiness. Instead, it leads us into a lifelong pursuit of Christ. In fact, another truth we find in scripture is that the only way we are going to get our lives “fixed” is by spending time with Christ, and it is while observing Him that we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Paul even seems to imply that Christians are no longer capable of committing sins when he says, “ ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). This is because we as Christians no longer live our lives according to a list of commands — “do this and don’t do that.” We no longer submit ourselves to a rigid pattern of what is right and wrong or good and bad.
Instead, as Christians we live our lives according to one standard: will doing this thing or not doing this thing draw me closer or push us farther from God? Will it help us “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” and keep our eyes fixed on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2)?
I believe this is exactly what Paul is saying in Galatians when he tells us, “…the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20),” and “it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith. (Gal.3:11)”
So not only is our salvation by faith alone, but our sanctification is by faith alone as well.
I am very burdened by the fact that too many Christian leaders, even many that I personally know and respect, miss this point. They fall back into a life of seeking sanctification under the law, and leading others back into this slavery. “Don’t watch that movie.” “Don’t go to that place.” “Don’t hang out with those people.” “Don’t drink.” “Don’t cuss.” “Don’t listen to that music.” And then at the end of the day, when these people have kept their list of rules, they get puffed up in self-righteousness, offer up their used tampax to the Lord, and still don’t understand their identity in the Lord.
So, Christian, just for clarification sake and to put an end to this identity crisis, let me simply allow scripture to tell you who you are in the Lord no matter how big of a failure (or how big of a success) you think you are right now:
- You are God’s child — John 1:12
- You are a friend of Jesus — John 15:15
- You are justified — Romans 5:1
- You’ve been united with the Lord and are one with him in Spirit — 1 Corinthians 6:17
- You’ve been purchased by Christ…you belong to God — 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
- You’re a member of Christ’s body — 1 Corinthians 12:27
- You’ve been chosen by God and adopted as his child — Ephesians 1:3-8
- You’ve been redeemed and forgiven of all your sins — Colossians 1:13-14
- You are complete in Christ — Colossians 2:9-10
- You have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus — Hebrews 4:14-16
- You are free from condemnation — Romans 8:1-2
- You cannot be separated from the love of God — Romans 8:28
- You are free from any condemning charges against you — Romans 8:31-34
- You’ve been established, anointed and sealed — 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
- You were washed…you were sanctified. You were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God — 1 Cor 6:11
- You are hidden with Christ in God — Colossians 3:1-4
- God started this work in you, and he will bring it to completion — Phil 1:6
- You are a citizen of heaven — Philippians 3:20
- You haven’t been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind — 2 Timothy 1:7
- You are born of God, and the evil one cannot touch you — 1 John 5:18
- You are a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life — John 15:5
- You have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit — John 15:16
- You are God’s temple — 1 Corinthians 3:16
- You are a minister of reconciliation — 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
- You are seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm — Ephesians 2:6
- You are God’s workmanship — Ephesians 2:10
- You can approach God with freedom and confidence – not because of your obedience…but because of Jesus’ obedience — Ephesians 3:12
- And finally, when you are faithless, he will remain faithful…because he cannot disown himself — 2 Timothy 2:13
(This list of scriptures is borrowed and adapted from UnearthedPictures.org)