If there is one phrase that sounds like a direct contradiction of itself, it is this – 'God is not in religion'. Funnily enough, it is one of my go-to statements when speaking to friends who have grievances with church, Christianity and even God.
Religion creates a continuous checklist of actions that one must perform in order to be reconciled to God, which borderlines on our own justification by works. I can understand how some people have this impression of God being a circus ringleader that makes people jump through holy hoops for their entire lives and only ever takes any notice of them for judgement purposes when they fall short.
Religion creates guilt and condemnation when we are so focussed on assessing our behaviour and making sure we are adhering to these religious guidelines, that we actually get distracted from what God really wants; which is for us to be in a 24/7 intimate relationship with Him. Thankfully for the entire human race, God is not religious; instead He is relational.
Romans tells us that while we were still sinners He gave His Son so we could be justified by His blood, and that He did it because He loves us individually. His grace is the reason we are freed from religion, and indeed freed from the oppression of monitoring our behaviour.
We instead move into a place of enjoying His friendship. It is from this place of loving Him and continually being with Him that His spirit works within us to bring His characteristics into our personalities. His grace underscores how generous His love is and the truth that He does not force change upon us by threatening us; rather He conquers sin in our life and changes us with His love.
The more we love Him, the more our lives move to line up with the standards He has set for us. The more that His spirit influences our personalities and actions, the more we long for the things He longs for. The motivation for our change now becomes relational, not religious. And because it is relational, it is real and lasting. People are relational, because God is – and we were made in His image. We were not made to be religious. The Pharisees were religious, and we all know what Jesus thought of that.
This is not to be confused with an evil concept of hyper-grace – where because we trust in God's grace and forgiveness we can go ahead and live however we want to, taking no regard for the standards he has for us. It frees us from this religious concept of God being a far off cosmic being that scares us into doing religious deeds, and places Him exactly where He wants to be – in constant personal fellowship with us, guiding us through love.
Samuel James is a Media Communication graduate based in Wollongong.
Samuel James' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/samuel-james.html