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Not a religion, but a relationship

May 29, 2012 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Consider this quote, which I heard recently:

“Christianity is not primarily a teaching nor a philosophy nor even a way of life. It is before everything else a relationship to a person. The New Testament in a sense will not even discuss with us the kind of life we are going to live until we have come to a satisfactory answer about him. All along the bible shuts us down to this one matter and holds us up against this one thing. It refuses to even discuss our questions and our problems with us. Before we can discuss how to live, what have you made of Him?”

These words were spoken by the 20th century Welsh preacher David Martin Lloyd-Jones, who was the minister of Westminster Chapel for 30 years. The first two lines state that the essence of Christianity is not a teaching or way of life but a relationship with God. This may seem like old news to those who have been in a church like ours for many years, but I assure you that it is still a novel idea to many who would call themselves Christians, let alone those outside the church. “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship” is one of those statements that many of us have made at one point or another in order to express that our faith is not about following rules or performing religious rituals, but is about knowing and walking in step with Jesus. Still, some of us would be wise to remember this truth, that as believers our primary task is not to do good things or to “try harder to be live like a Christian” but rather to know God, and by knowing Him more intimately, to become more like Him. Consider these two passages:

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

Christianity is primarily a relationship with the God of the universe. Your primary responsibility as a Christian is to get to know God.

But that’s not all I want to highlight in this quote. The next thing Lloyd-Jones says is “The New Testament in a sense will not even discuss with us the kind of life we are going to live until we have come to a satisfactory answer about him.” This is both a message for those who do not yet believe, as well as for those of us who live among those who do not yet believe. As we have learned from our study through Galatians, a person is saved from sin and death not by obeying the law, but by faith in Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, our primary concern as we interact with those outside the church should not be their morality, but whether or not they know Jesus. In other words, if you have people in your life who do not follow Jesus, and do things that are contrary to God’s will, in most cases you will have to resist the urge to try to get them to “be more moral.” The classic example is the Christian who works with other people who have no qualms about swearing or using foul language. Should the Christian ask them to stop swearing? I would argue that by doing so, we would be communicating that the Christian message is primarily about following rules or living a certain way, as opposed to a relationship with God. What good is it if you succeed in making someone more moral if they still do not know God? Better yet to love people as they are, point them to Jesus, and make developing a relationship with God the priority.

The truth is that it is knowing God that makes all the difference, because once someone has the Spirit in them, their perspective, desires, motivations, and goals all begin to shift. Instead of being self-centered, or living for the approval of others, for love, for money, or whatever else is of greatest importance, the person’s primary desire eventually becomes knowing and loving God and loving others. And once that is the primary desire, the other behaviors begin to be seen with completely different eyes. What was once normal and desirable soon becomes undesirable, and that which brought some measure of happiness all of a sudden no longer compares with the greater joy available in Jesus.

So let Lloyd-Jones’ words encourage you in both your own walk with God as well as in your witness to the world around you, keep the primary thing central. Christianity is all about a relationship with God. As Lloyd-Jones concludes, “What have you made of Him?”

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